Rutgers Basketball Player Sues Imus
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.”
This suit would appear absurd on its face. First, Imus never mentioned the woman by name. Second, and more importantly, his remarks were rather clearly a bad joke rather than an assertion about the women’s sex lives. No reasonable person would have taken away, in the context of Imus’ remarks, that those he called “nappy headed hos” were actually prostitutes.
The word “ho” became part of the vernacular via rap music, black comedians, and the like but has become so mainstream that it has lost it’s original meaning. Apparently, though, the law has not caught up to that fact.
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.”
The fact that Imus has settled with CBS over his firing and is now free to pursue a return to the airwaves factored in to the decision as well. Ancowitz said, “”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?”
Please. Nobody had ever heard of these women. Thanks to Imus’ loutish comments and the ensuing publicity swarm, they became minor celebrities. The coverage was overwhelmingly positive, pointing out how articulate and nice they were. However hurt they may have been by the comments made by some old white guy on a show they likely never heard of, their reputations were enhanced, not damaged, by the controversy.
UPDATE: Comments arguing that Imus’ original comments were somehow accurate will be summarily deleted.