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California appeals court advances lurid suit against Coke bottling heir Alkiviades David

The eccentric Coca-Cola bottling heir has faced numerous sexual harassment suits by former employees.

(CN) — Billionaire Alkiviades David's attempt block a former employee's lawsuit through an anti-SLAPP motion met with failure once again Tuesday, when a California appellate panel upheld a lower court's rejection of the motion.

David, the eccentric heir to the overseas Coca-Cola bottling fortune, has had various business ventures of his own, including a modeling agency, a streaming site and a hologram theater. He has also been sued by numerous former employees claiming harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

In 2019, at least four of the suits went to trial and David lost three of them: A jury ordered David to pay former production assistant Mahim Kahn $58.25 million; another ordered him to pay Chastity Jones $11.1 million; and third jury ordered David to pay Lauren Reeves, a former hologram theater writer, $5 million.

That same year, a sexual harassment and wrongful termination lawsuit brought by former employee Elizabeth Taylor ended in a hung jury. David had represented himself in what was by all accounts a circus-like trial, with the defendant making frequent profanity-laced outbursts, being fined $10,000 by the judge and even being thrown out of the courtroom on more than one occasion.

Shortly after the wild trial ended, David claimed vindication, saying in a statement: "This case is not just about me. I’m fighting this for the innocent men and women unfairly convicted in social media. I want to strike a blow against lawyers who cynically abuse the spirit of the #MeToo movement for personal gain."

Months later in February 2020, Taylor filed a supplemental complaint against David claiming retaliation that occurred after her she filed her first complaint.

“Mr. David’s sadistic and retaliatory attacks against Ms. Taylor took the form of physical threats, online cyberbullying, profane outbursts and meritless cross-claims," Taylor said in her supplemental complaint.

Among other things, Taylor claimed that David said while being deposed — and as Taylor sat across the table from him — “I don't like this fat woman. I don't want this horrible, disgusting, pimply asshole — you know, you are."

Taylor also claims David's various blog and Instagram posts at the time of the trial insulted, harassed and threatened both Taylor and her lawyer, Lisa Bloom. One showed photos of the two women with red Xs over their faces and the hashtag, #slaythedragon." Another called Taylor "mental" and Bloom a "formidable cunt."

David filed an anti-SLAPP motion, a legal device available in some states, like California, that helps defendants ward off meritless lawsuits in the name of free speech. In the motion, David contended his social media and blog posts were free speech activities related to areas of public interest, since his trials were covered so widely in the press, and since Bloom is famous.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rafael Ongkeko rejected the anti-SLAPP motion, finding David's social media posts were not done in the public interest but simply for the purposes of "mud-slinging" and "retaliation."

A three-judge Second Appellate District panel agreed and upheld Ongkeko's order Tuesday.

"Nothing in the supplemental complaint or the anti-SLAPP motion suggests the posts contained any substantive information about the trial itself or the #metoo movement in general," LA County Superior Court Judge Gary Micon, sitting by designation, wrote for the panel. "To the contrary, the posts appear to consist solely of David’s negative views of Taylor personally."

Justices Nora Manella and Thomas Willhite joined Micon's opinion.

"The case now goes back to court for a jury trial," David's attorney, Dana Cole, said in an email. "Mr. David, who represented himself in the first trial and almost won it outright, looks forward to achieving full vindication this next go round."

Asked if he would be representing David during that go round, Cole replied, "We will be working those issues out."

In a written statement, Bloom said: "For Elizabeth, this is a giant step forward in her fight for justice, as her jury will be able to hear the fuller story of what she has had to endure in standing up against sexual harassment."

Follow @hillelaron
Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Employment

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