Don Imus Sued by Rutgers Basketball Player
Star Center Kia Vaughn Names Imus, NBC, CBS in Civil Suit
By LARA SETRAKIAN
Aug. 14, 2007
Don Imus is facing his first lawsuit from a player on the Rutgers Women's Basketball team for derogatory comments that cost him his job as a radio host in April, ABC News has learned.
Kia Vaughn, star center for the Rutgers Women's Basketball team, has filed a lawsuit against Imus for libel, slander and defamation -- the first civil suit to be filed against the former radio host. Vaughn is asking for monetary damages of an unspecified amount.
"This is a lawsuit in order to restore the good name and reputation of my client, Kia Vaughn," said her attorney, Richard Ancowitz, in an exclusive interview with the ABC News Law & Justice Unit.
The suit names Imus individually, but it is also waged against MSNBC, NBC Universal, CBS Radio, CBS Corp., Viacom Inc., Westwood One Radio and Imus producer Bernard McGuirk.
Today's suit refers to terms used by Imus April 4 -- including referring to women on the team as "nappy headed" -- as "debasing, demeaning, humiliating, and denigrating" to Vaughn and her fellow players. "There's no way these bigoted remarks should have seen the light of day," Ancowitz told ABC News.
"Don Imus referred to my client as an unchaste woman. That was and is a lie."
Of the networks that aired "Imus in the Morning," the lawsuit alleges that they "wrongfully, intentionally, willfully ... created, tolerated and maintained an atmosphere in which the making of outrageous statements and comments was acceptable, encouraged, and/or rewarded for many years prior to this occurrence and/or overtly encouraged the statements made."
The lawsuit alleges that use of the slanderous terms was intentional and motivated by greed and financial gain: In using insults against otherwise innocent people, Imus would get higher ratings, making more money for him and his employers. Among other infractions, the suit alleges that Imus violated the players' civil rights.
Robert Baker, a civil trial lawyer in California, says the high visibility of Imus' comments would help Vaughn in court.
"Everyone knows how unwarranted those comments were. It makes it easier for them to win their case," Baker told ABC News.
"She has a slander per se case -- the word itself was something derogatory. She doesn't even have to prove that she was damaged."
Earlier today, The Associated Press reported that Imus had reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with former employer CBS over his firing. ABC News has learned that Imus could be back to broadcasting as early as January, and is being courted by major media outlets. That settlement, said Ancowitz, rewards Imus while leaving little justice for the women of the Rutgers basketball team.
"He's come out smelling like quite the rose. But what about these young women? How does Imus' victory affect their self-esteem? Where do they go to get their reputations back?"
Ancowitz said the timing of today's lawsuit had nothing to do with Imus' possible return to the airwaves. Vaughn herself was not available for comment. The 20-year-old, 6 foot 4 inch New York native is in the midst of exams before starting her junior year at Rutgers University this fall.
Vaughn's lawyer said that some of the money from any damages awarded in the lawsuit would be used to create a scholarship program to study the effects of bigoted and misogynistic speech on society.
Imus' attorneys would not comment on the case. NBC and MSNBC refused to comment on a lawsuit neither had yet seen. CBS News did not immediately provide comment.
Michelle Ruiz and Lauren Pearle contributed reporting for this story.