Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

A French court ruled Friday that six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and two journalists who reported the allegations were not guilty of defamation

PARIS -- A Paris court has dismissed a defamation case against six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and the journalists who reported the allegations.

The court on Friday ordered Denis Baupin to pay 1,000 euros (1,120) in damages to each of the 12 people he sued.

In May 2016, investigative website Mediapart and radio station France Inter published and broadcast accounts from 14 women who alleged Baupin had groped, sexted or otherwise harassed them.

The prominent Green Party member resigned as vice president of the lower House of Parliament but denied wrongdoing and launched a defamation lawsuit against the six women who were identified in the reports, some witnesses and journalists.

The case had been under particular scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Women rights activists have seen it as a test of French womens ability to speak out when they think powerful men have sexually harassed or abused them — and how journalists can report it.

The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law.

In addition, it considered France Inter and Mediapart respected their additional obligations: the legitimacy of journalists goals in producing a story, demonstrating an absence of personal animosity, prudence and balance, and the quality of the investigation.

Most of the women who spoke about Baupins alleged behavior from 1998 to 2013 were fellow Green Party members, and outrage greeted their descriptions.

Four filed criminal complaints for sexual harassment at the time. A nine-month judicial investigation ended without charges. Prosecutors said the three-year statute of limitations had expired, but released a statement saying the womens measured, constant statements and witness corroboration created a set of facts to support allegations of actions that may for some of them be classified as criminal.

The cleared women greeted the ruling with tears of joy and relief.

Lawyer Claire Moleon, a lawyer for one of them, told The Associated Press that this is a great victory.

This is a very strong signal given by justice. Its putting an end to a move that we were noticing to use defamation lawsuits to put more pressure on the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, she said.

Moleon stressed that Baupins order to pay damages to the people he sent on trial shows that sanctions apply to such cases.

During the February trial, women had described, often with lots of emotion, their alleged harassment through text messages and inappropriate comments, and in some cases, alleged sexual assault attempts.

Some former officials of Frances Green Party also testified in court, saying they should have acted earlier on reports of sexual misconduct. They stressed that the #MeToo movement has raised their awareness.

Baupins lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat, had argued his client did nothing illegal and had filed a defamation lawsuit to fully clear his name.

Baupin had decided not to attend the trial.