A former contestant on the reality show “The Apprentice” filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against President-elect Donald Trump over his response to her allegations that he groped her during a job interview in 2007.
Summer Zervos, a California restaurant owner who appeared on the show in 2006, accused Trump of aggressively kissing and grabbing her when she went to his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel to discuss a possible job at the Trump Organization a year later.
In her suit, Zervos alleges that Trump defamed her when he denied her account of their interactions in the hotel room, accusing her and other women who made similar accusations of lying and fabricating their accounts. Zervos said she would drop her lawsuit, which was filed in New York, without seeking monetary damages if Trump would retract his claim that she lied and acknowledge his actions.
Zervos appeared at a Los Angeles news conference alongside her lawyer, Gloria Allred, who said Zervos took and passed a lie-
detector test before filing her suit.
“Enough is enough,” Allred said. “Truth matters. Women matter. Those who allege they were victims of sexual misconduct or sexual assault by Mr. Trump matter.” Allred said that as the lawsuit proceeds, she would seek to depose Trump under oath and could also seek to subpoena recordings Trump made during tapings of “The Apprentice.”
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks responded in a statement: “More of the same from Gloria Allred. There is no truth to this absurd story.”
Eleven women spoke publicly before the election, accusing Trump of inappropriately touching or kissing them. They stepped forward after Trump denied ever touching a woman without her consent during a presidential debate in October.
“Have you ever done those things?” Trump was asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, regarding comments Trump made during a taping of “Access Hollywood” in 2005, when he bragged about groping and kissing women without their prior permission. “I will tell you: No, I have not,” Trump responded.
During the campaign, Trump asserted that each of his accusers was lying and vowed to sue the women for making the claims.
“Total fabrication,” he said during a campaign rally in Gettysburg, Pa., in October. “The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.”
Without evidence, he said the women were coordinating with the campaign of his rival, Hillary Clinton. He also mocked some of the women, suggesting they were not attractive enough for him to sexually harass.
“Look at her, and look at her words. And you tell me what you think. I don’t think so,” Trump said at a rally about one of his accusers, a People Magazine reporter who said Trump shoved her against a wall and forcibly kissed her while she was at his Florida Mar-a-Lago estate on assignment in 2005.
Trump has not yet filed suit against any of the women.
The Supreme Court has ruled that presidents can be sued while in office over their private conduct or activities before their election. The ruling came after President Bill Clinton sought to have a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Arkansas state worker Paula Jones delayed until after he left office.
The Clinton case shows the potential peril of such suits for a sitting president. Clinton ultimately settled with Jones, but allegations that he had lied under oath during a deposition in the matter about his relations with intern Monica Lewinsky led to his impeachment.
Trump has already settled other lawsuits to ensure they do not linger into his presidency. In November, he agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits accusing his defunct real estate seminar program Trump University of fraud. He did not admit fault.
In her suit, Zervos asserted that she had gone to the Los Angeles hotel to discuss a possible job with Trump after he had been complimentary of her performance on the television show. In the room, she alleged that Trump kissed her aggressively and groped her breast. As she attempted to reject his advances, she said Trump steered her toward the bedroom, saying, “let’s lay down and watch some telly telly.”
“Come on man, get real,” she replied, according to the suit. Trump then “repeated her words back to her lasciviously, drawing out the second word and saying, ‘get reeeeal,’ as he began to press his genitals against her, trying to kiss her again,” the suit alleges.
Immediately after leaving Trump, Zervos told her father about the encounter, according to the suit.
Zervos said she excused Trump’s behavior for years, particularly because she was ultimately offered a job at the Trump Organization, but she had been compelled to step forward after hearing the presidential candidate brag to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush about behaving similarly with other women.
According to the suit, the tape convinced Zervos that Trump was “a sexual predator who had preyed on her and other women.” She claimed his dismissal of her as a “phony” and her account as a “hoax” had resulted in lost business for her restaurant and emotional distress.
Zervos is one of four of Trump’s accusers represented by Allred, who also represents more than two dozen women who have accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault.
In the suit, Zervos alleges that Trump knew his statements were defamatory, not just because he knew the truth of their interactions but also because he knew “he engaged regularly in this kind of unwanted sexual touching for years, and that was, in fact, how he treated women routinely and how he lived his life.”
If the case is allowed to proceed, the claim could allow Allred to explore other allegations made by women against Trump.