Apr 17, 2024 2 min read

Russell Simmons says 1997 agreement bars new sexual assault lawsuit

A lawyer for Russell Simmons has argued that a former Def Jam employee who accused him of sexual assault cannot sue him due to a 1997 settlement. His accuser’s legal rep said that they were not aware of any such agreement

Russell Simmons says 1997 agreement bars new sexual assault lawsuit

A lawyer representing Def Jam founder Russell Simmons yesterday said that a new lawsuit accusing his client of sexual assault should be dismissed. Simmons denies the allegations contained in the lawsuit, though his attorney was arguing for dismissal based on legal technicalities: the statute of limitations and a previous 1997 agreement. 

A legal rep for Simmons' accuser seemed unaware of the 1997 agreement. Meanwhile, Simmons' attorney didn't seem to know that his client had previously agreed to an extension of the deadline for filing claims under the New York Adult Survivors Act. According to Law360, the judge overseeing the proceedings mused, “I think it would behoove each of you to exchange documents”. 

In the lawsuit filed in February, an unnamed woman who worked for Def Jam in the mid-1990s claimed that she “was sexually harassed, assaulted, sexually battered, and raped by her boss, Russell Simmons”. 

The rape occurred after she was required to go to Simmons’ New York home for a meeting. Following the assault, the alleged victim “was wrought with distress. At the peak of her career success at Def Jam, making award-winning videos for their biggest artists, she experienced overwhelming anxiety, shame, humiliation and debilitating low self-esteem”. She ultimately quit the label and the music business. 

In a court session yesterday, Simmons’ lawyer David Fish said that all the claims in the lawsuit “have been waived by a 9 Jan 1997 settlement agreement and release”. No more information was provided about that agreement, with the accuser's lawyer, Sigrid McCawley, stating that this is “the first we're hearing about this alleged release”. 

Beyond that agreement, Fish also argued that the claims in the lawsuit are barred by the statute of limitations. The lawsuit is relying on two pieces of law that specifically allow new litigation to be filed relating to incidents that allegedly took place sufficiently long ago that they would normally be prohibited by the statute of limitations. 

The first is New York state's Adult Survivors Act. However, the deadline for filing claims under that act was 24 Nov 2023, and this lawsuit was submitted with the court in February. It was on that point that McCawley argued that Simmons, via a previous attorney, had agreed to an extension of the deadline, via what is known as a 'tolling agreement'. 

The lawsuit is also relying on New York City's Gender Motivated Violence Act, which was updated in 2022 to remove the statute of limitations providing lawsuits are filed by 28 Feb 2025. This lawsuit obviously meets that deadline. To that end, Fish is relying on a different argument here, basically that this can only be relied upon for alleged assaults that occurred after the act became law in 2000. 

Presumably the lawyers will now exchange their documents and then update the court on their respective positions.

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