Thursday, November 21, 2002
Panel Declines to Publish Ruling on Sex Harassment Suit Against Gay Activist
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal has denied a request to publish an opinion holding that a sexual harassment suit against the executive director of a gay women’s group was not a SLAPP.
Without comment Tuesday, the panel rejected the request by Century City sole practitioner Craig Byrnes. Byrnes’ client, Karen Pearson Brown, claims she was subjected to repeated requests for sex and unwanted exposure to pornography by Stacy Codikow.
Codikow is an independent producer, whose credits include “Breaking Up Really Sucks,” a 2001 release detailing a lesbian relationship gone awry, and currently has three films in production, according to the Internet Movie Database.
She is also the executive director and co-founder of Professional Organization of Women in Entertainment Reaching Up, Inc., or Power Up. The group, formed two years ago “to promote, encourage, and support the visibility and integration of gay women in entertainment,” has offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago and has been estimated in news reports as having between 500 and 700 members.
Brown, who alleges she was employed by the group as a publicist—POWER UP claims she was a volunteer—has accused Codikow of several instances of harassment, including e-mailing her a lewd photograph, inquiring about the sex life of Brown and her partner, and demanding Brown’s resignation after learning Brown was bisexual.
Codikow insists it was Brown who made unwanted sexual overtures and has cross-complained for defamation. She claims that Brown falsely accused her of embezzling from the group.
Power Up, which is represented by Jeffrey F. Webb of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, sought to have the suit thrown out as a strategic lawsuit against public participation. Webb argued that the suit implicates Codikow’s First Amendment right to discuss sexual issues.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Wu denied the motion, and Div. Four affirmed in an Oct. 29 opinion by Presiding Justice Charles Vogel.
Vogel distinguished a number of cases in which courts have invoked First Amendment protection for discussion of sexual issues on the Internet, on cable television, over a telephone “dial-a-porn” service, in films, and in periodicals.
All of those cases, the jurist explained, involves public issues or matters of public interest. “Here, the evidence shows only private conversations about Codikow’s and Brown’s private sex lives and indicates no connection with any then-pending public issue or issue of public interest,” Vogel wrote.
Byrnes told the MetNews that he sought publication because the defense argument was “ridiculous.” He said “the Court of Appeal should come out and declare that [Fair Employment and Housing Act] plaintiffs who are harassed...should not be subject to an anti-SLAPP motion.”
Webb declined to comment on the case other than by reference to documents in the record.
The case is Brown v. Professional Organization of Women in Entertainment Reaching Up, Inc., B156610.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company