Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the reality show hosted by President-elect Trump, filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Trump had defamed her.
Though the lawsuit recounts several allegations of unwanted kissing and sexual touching by Trump, the action is not for sexual assault.
Rather, Zervos is suing Trump over the statements he made denying Zervos’ allegations of assault when she first went public with them last October, after leaked Access Hollywood tapes captured Trump bragging of his ability to kiss and fondle women because of his status as a “star.” Those tapes also immortalized an assault of the feline variety.
Once those tapes were made public, Zervos says she realized that Trump’s alleged assaults on her in December of 2007 were not an “isolated set of incidents,” but rather, “that she was just one of many women who had been victimized by Mr. Trump’s predatory conduct,” according to her lawsuit.
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She says she was spurred to action when Trump denied having conducted himself in the manner he had bragged of in the Access Hollywood tapes, including during the third presidential debate.
“Summer Zervos is one of many women who has been subjected to unwanted sexual touching by Donald J. Trump,” says the complaint, filed in New York. “This lawsuit seeks to make Donald Trump accountable for the significant damage he has caused Ms. Zervos—a woman who had the fortitude and courage to come forward and speak truth to power, so that the nation would be informed about the true Donald Trump.”
Allegations of Assault
The complaint details two encounters during which Trump allegedly kissed and touched Zervos without her consent.
In December of 2007, Zervos visited Trump’s office while she was on a visit to New York from her home in California. Though she had been “fired” from The Apprentice in 2006, Zervos says she remained in contact with Trump, hoping he would serve as her professional mentor, and perhaps hire her.
Zervos alleges that Trump kissed her on the lips twice, at the beginning and end of that encounter, in each instance without her consent. She alleges that he asked for her phone number, and continued to call her, using the nickname, “OC Angel,” in reference to the fact that she was originally from Orange County, California.
The next assault is alleged to have occurred weeks later, days before Christmas.
Trump called Zervos to say he was going to be in Los Angeles, and the two arranged to meet at the Beverly Hills Hotel, according to the complaint.
Zervos arrived believing she was there for a job interview. Instead, Zervos alleges that Trump’s security guard led her to a bungalow, where she waited in the living room while Trump got dressed in the adjacent bedroom, with the door open. After Zervos had waited for fifteen minutes, she says Trump emerged from the bedroom, and “immediately started kissing Ms. Zervos open mouthed, pulling her towards him.”
Zervos disentangled herself, but Trump “grabbed her shoulder, again kissing her very aggressively, and placed his hand on her breast.”
She again retreated, but Trump allegedly led her by the hand to the bedroom and said, “Let’s lay down and watch some telly telly.”
Trump again forced himself on her, this time allegedly pressing his genitals against her and trying to kiss her again.
After further protestations, the president-elect ceased his unwanted sexual contact with Zervos, and the two discussed her mortgage payments over a meal of club sandwiches and fries, according to the complaint. Trump allegedly told Zervos that “he did not believe that she had ever known love or been in love.”
Zervos left feeling distressed and confused, and ultimately concluded that Trump had either been “testing” her, or that the assault was “an isolated incident, about which Mr. Trump was embarrassed and ashamed.” She claimed that she maintained hope that he might mentor her professionally, and stayed in contact with him for another few years.
Upon hearing the Access Hollywood tapes and Trump’s dismissal of his comments as mere “locker room talk” that did not reflect his actions, Zervos’ views changed, according to the complaint. She believed it was “unacceptable to stand by and allow a presidential candidate to lie openly, with impunity, to the American public,” and that she had “a responsibility to inform the public of the true facts.”
Once Zervos and other women came forward with allegation that Trump had assaulted them, he went on the attack. Through social media, on his campaign website, and at rallies and public events, Trump called the allegations “lies,” saying that the women were motivated by a desire for fame, or by allegiances with his political opponents. In some cases, he ridiculed their looks, and called them “horrible people.”
Zervos says those statements defamed her, and caused her both emotional and financial damage.
The damage to her business, however, appears to have been minimal. The lawsuit seeks just $2,914 in financial losses stemming from “lost customers and business” due to Trump’s public derision of her as a liar and publicity seeker.
Allred said that her client would be satisfied with a retraction and apology from Trump. The lawsuit asks for both compensatory and punitive damages.
Potential Political Fallout
The greater impact of the lawsuit could be political. Allred said during the press conference that she would consider demanding copies of “any and all” recordings from The Apprentice from NBC, as they could be relevant to her client’s case.
NBC came under pressure last year to release those tapes, following the leak of the damaging Access Hollywood recording. There was rampant speculation that those tapes contain material damaging to Trump.
Allred made explicit reference to another famous lawsuit involving a former president, Clinton v. Jones. In that case, Paula Jones accused President Clinton of sexual misconduct directed toward her while he was governor of Arkansas and she was a state employee. During his testimony in that case, Clinton denied having had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. That set the stage for impeachment proceedings against Clinton, which ultimately failed.
Whether or not impeachment could result from the current case, it’s clear that Allred was drawing a parallel to the Clinton example.
Allred denied that the Hillary Clinton campaign or Hillary Clinton herself had any connection with the new lawsuit. She said that there was no outside funding for this case, and couched the new lawsuit as a fight for the recognition of women’s rights.
“Women are not a footnote to history,” she said. “They matter. We value them.”