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Lessons From Kesha's Contract, Sexual Harassment Woes

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 25, 2016 2:57 PM

Perhaps you've been following #FreeKesha on Twitter, or seen her recent contract dispute pop up in the tabloids. Kesha, the pop star, recently lost a minor legal battle in her suit against Lukasz Sebastian, the record producer known as "Dr. Luke."

But don't write off the dispute as something just for the tabloids. There are important lessons for in-house counsel in there, too, we swear.

Wait, Isn't That Spelled Ke$ha?

Kesha rose to fame on the back of her 2009 hit 'Tik Tok.' (At that time, she was known as Ke$ha, but the dollar sign has since been dropped.) That song, like much of her work, was produced in conjunction with Dr. Luke.

Since 2014, Kesha and Dr. Luke have been engaged in an ongoing legal battle. The singer sued Dr. Luke in California, seeking to void her contract with the producer and accused him of sexual assault. Dr. Luke has sued Kesha in New York, claiming defamation and extortion. Last Friday, the California court denied her request for a preliminary injunction, finding that there was too little evidence to warrant relief at this time.

Investigate and Respond

So what can in-house attorneys take from the controversy? First, the importance of taking sexual harassment claims seriously and running a proper investigation and taking remedial measures to address any failings. As the Tenth Circuit noted in Holmes v. Utah, employers are liable for a sexually hostile work environment only if the employer fails to take remedial and preventative responses once the conduct has been reported.

But first, you must investigate claims. Investigations should be conducted by someone experienced and able to handle sexual harassment claims with the appropriate respect and sensitivity. An investigation should include interviews with all parties involved, extensive documentation, and a neutral, legally-defensible final decision.

Caught in the Middle

And finally, if the case is high-profile, you may want to take actions to defend your corporate reputation. Sony Music, Kesha's label, has finally done that after days of silence, and they've done it well. In a statement to The New York Times, the label said:

Sony has made it possible for Kesha to record without any connection, involvement or interaction with Luke whatsoever, but Sony is not in a position to terminate the contractual relationship between Luke and Kesha.

Further, it explained that it is "doing everything it can to support the artist in these circumstances," putting it on the side of popular opinion, but making clear its legal neutrality in the dispute.

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