Filmmaker Brett Ratner has sued a woman in federal court in Hawaii, alleging she defamed him with a Facebook post that claimed he raped her about 12 years ago.
The defamation suit was filed against Melanie Kohler, a former marketing executive who now co-owns a scuba shop with her husband in Hawaii. She was sued just hours after the Los Angeles Times published a story with allegations from six women — including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge — accusing Ratner of sexual misconduct and harassment. Kohler was not quoted in the article.
In her post on Facebook, she said that Ratner had "preyed on me as a drunk girl [and] forced himself upon me."
"Brett Ratner raped me," she wrote, calling out the powerful filmmaker who has directed, produced or financed dozens of Hollywood hits, including "Rush Hour," "Horrible Bosses" and "X-Men: The Last Stand."
Shortly after the account was posted, Ratner's lawyer, Martin Singer, called Kohler on her cellphone, questioned her about the account and threatened that Ratner would sue her for defamation.
"I was scared," she told The Times in an interview last week, "so I took it down."
The suit called the allegation "false, fabricated, and fictional," and accused her of posting the account "maliciously," and with intent to harm Ratner's reputation. Ratner has disputed all of the allegations against him.
Kohler, 39, told The Times that she had been moved to write the Facebook post after reading the stories of sexual harassment and assault shared by many women in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
"It started to feel like I did have something to say and I was not saying it," Kohler said. "The culture is changing and every little voice — even my voice — could potentially matter."
Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who is representing Kohler and successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, called Ratner's legal tactic "just plain wrong."
"The goal of these lawsuits is to intimidate women," said Kohler spokesman Bill Burton, who served as President Obama's deputy press secretary. "Melanie will not be intimidated."
Litigation, including defamation suits, is more common in cases with allegations of sex crimes when an individual has the resources to pursue an accuser, said Douglas Mirell, a respected 1st Amendment attorney whose clients have included actors and the media. For example, Bill Cosby, who was also represented by Singer, sued several of his accusers. Mirell said women have also sued the actor for defamation after he denied their accusations.
Some courts, said Mirell, have tossed out defamation cases based on anti-SLAPP statutes — a suit that seeks to censor, intimidate and silence critics is known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP. Ratner may have filed in Hawaii, where Kohler lives, rather than California, where he lives, because Hawaii's anti-SLAPP rules only cover statements before government bodies. "California has a much more stringent standard," he said.
In addition to Kohler, seven other women have publicly accused Ratner of sexual harassment or misconduct. In interviews with The Times, Henstridge alleged that Ratner forced her to perform oral sex. Munn said he masturbated in front of her. Former fashion stylist Leah Forester told the New York Times that he pushed her into a room, closed the door, began masturbating, then ejaculated on her.
Attorney Singer strongly denied the allegations.
"We are confident that his name will be cleared once the current media frenzy dies down and people can objectively evaluate the nature of these claims," he said in a widely distributed statement. "He understands the seriousness of this issue and the importance of addressing the concerns of victims of sexual misconduct both in the entertainment industry and beyond."
After the Los Angeles Times first published the allegations, Warner Bros. cut ties with the filmmaker. The Burbank studio will not renew its production deal with Ratner, and the fate of his company's $450-million co-financing agreement beyond 2018 is unclear, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Ratner, 48, said in a statement that he is "choosing to personally step away from all Warner Bros.-related activities. I don't want to have any possible negative impact to the studio until these personal issues are resolved."
Singer, in a letter to The Times, denied using intimidation tactics to scare women from speaking out.
"There is no issue of trying to deter women," Singer said. "After learning of Ms. Kohler's Facebook post, I contacted her and calmly informed her that if the Facebook story was not true … she could be sued for defamation."