GUEST POST: Workplace lessons for employers from Ke$ha and Dr. Luke


We have an extra-special guest blogger today. It’s my mentee, Meaghan Londergan. (Sorry, folks, all of The Karate Kid images were copyright protected). Sadly, I no longer work with Meaghan. But, in her defense, there’s only so much Meyer that a young impressionable associate can take. Since then, Meaghan’s been a real mover and shaker. Now, she’s a Partner at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP.

I also want to give a shout out to Meaghan’s law clerk Erika Mohr, a third-year law student at the Drexel University, Thomas R. Kline School of Law, graduating May 2016. If I taught Meaghan anything — Meaghan, did I teach you anything? Don’t answer that. — it’s to delegate responsibility, especially on law-related articles. So, let’s assume that Erika did all the heavy lifting on this guest post.

If you want to reach Meaghan, maybe hear some blackmail old Meyer war stories, you should connect with her on LinkedIn. Ditto for Erika, less the dirt. And if you want to guest blog on an employment-law topic at The Employer Handbook, email me.

Should an artist be contractually bound to work for a producer following allegations of sexual assault?

Judge Shirley Kornreich for the Supreme Court of New York, New York County says yes for now.

Kornreich recently denied the pop-star’s request for a preliminary injunction to release her from a recording contract with Kemosabe Records, a Sony subsidiary. The lawsuit alleges that Kemosabe Records’s producer, Dr. Luke, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused her. The suit also alleges that on one occasion, “[Ke$ha] took [] pills and woke up the following afternoon, naked in Dr. Luke’s bed, sore and sick, with no memory of how she got there.” Dr. Luke contends that Ke$ha was “just trying to get out of her contract.”

Kornreich denied the injunction reasoning that, “there has been no showing of irreparable harm,” and stated, “[y]ou’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry.” Kornreich cited a lack of medical evidence to corroborate the assault allegations and added that her instinct was “to do the commercially reasonable thing.”

Sony contends that while it is doing everything it can to support Ke$ha, including making it possible to record without any connection, involvement, or interaction with Dr. Luke whatsoever, it is not in a position to terminate the artists contract because Sony is not a party to the contract. Ke$ha’s contract is a direct deal with Kasz Money, Dr. Luke’s production company, and Sony contends that it is therefore not directly involved. But hold on- I am confused isn’t Kemosabe Records a subsidiary of Sony? Ok, moving on- Ke$ha is still contractually bound to produce four more records.

Many artists both inside and outside the industry including: Kelly Clarkson, Adele, Jack Antonoff, Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga, among others, have expressed their support for Ke$ha during her ongoing legal battle.

Taylor Swift has donated $250,000 to Ke$ha, “in show of support,” and “to help with any of her financial needs during this trying time.”

Stars also showed their support for Ke$ha and called for awareness of sexual assault at widely publicized events including Adele’s acceptance speech at the Brit Awards and most recently, Lady Gaga’s performance at the 88th annual Academy Awards. During the performance, Gaga, a victim of sexual assault herself, filled the stage with survivors and urged attendees to take a pledge to end sexual assault.

While many artists who have worked directly with Dr. Luke in the past, including Kelly Clarkson, have vocalized support for Ke$ha, some notable artists who worked with Dr. Luke have yet to show their support for the artist, namely Katy Perry and Brittney Spears. Perry is one of Dr. Luke’s most high profile artists and Dr. Luke and Ke$ha worked with Spears to record her dance track “Till the World Ends.”

The publicity surrounding the suit has propelled individual Ke$ha’s legal battle into a movement gaining increasing notoriety. No matter the outcome of the suit, as of now, Ke$ha must remain under contract with a man that makes that she alleges makes her feel “unsafe” and that she alleges committed acts of sexual violence against her.

But, as an employer, what should you do?

First of all, be aware that this sword likely has two sharp edges. Generally, the law surrounding sexual harassment guides employers in a he said/she said situation to heed the complainant’s allegations. The same is particularly true when the alleged harasser is in a supervisory or managerial position and the complainant is a subordinate. Also as an employer, if you know or should have known about the harassment and fail to take “prompt and effective remedial actions,” you may be liable for the alleged sexual harassment.

If one of your employees files a sexual harassment claim against another employee, here’s what you should do:

  1. Consult your employment attorney;
  2. Promptly investigate the employee’s claims and document the process;
  3. Take remedial and/or precautionary action;
  4. Be prepared, if necessary, to terminate the alleged harasser; and
  5. Consider adopting a “zero tolerance” policy with regard to sexual harassment.
Image Credit: Pixabay