LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A comedy writer who says she endured months of sexual innuendo and inappropriate conduct by her billionaire boss was awarded $650,000 in compensatory damages today.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about two days before finding in favor of 36-year-old Lauren Reeves in her lawsuit alleging battery and harassment against Alki David and two of his companies, Hologram USA Inc. and Alki David Productions Inc.
The jury also found that David acted with malice, oppression or fraud, triggering a second phase of trial to begin Tuesday to determine if Reeves should be awarded punitive damages.
``I feel relieved,'' Reeves said outside the courtroom.
Her attorney, Nathan Goldberg, cut off further comment by his client pending the conclusion of the punitive damages phase.
David's lawyer, Ellyn Garofalo, said the $650,000 was far less than the $14 million that Goldberg recommended that the jury award the plaintiff.
Garofalo said she did not know if David's numerous outbursts during the trial -- in which he repeatedly lashed out at Goldberg and Reeves -- helped or hurt his case, saying it was a question that would have to be posed to the jury. A sheriff's deputy was present in the courtroom throughout the trial.
David, 51, was not present for the verdict.
Reeves was the third plaintiff to take her sexual harassment case against David to trial since April, when 42-year-old Chasity Jones was awarded $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages. She later agreed to a reduction of about $445,000 after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rafael Ongkeko found the amount of out-of-pocket damages awarded her was excessive.
David has appealed the Jones verdict and Garofalo said she expects it will be overturned.
On Sept. 3, Judge Christopher Lui declared a mistrial in the case of Jones' co-plaintiff, 32-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, after jurors deadlocked 8-4 in favor of the plaintiff.
Reeves told jurors she had two stints working as an independent contractor for David, one in 2015 at FilmOn TV and another in 2016 at Hologram USA. She said she came back the second time to pitch an idea to him because she was interested in working with holograms.
David twice put his hands around Reeves' throat in the workplace in April 2016, the second time occurring in front of a comedian with whom she was having a conversation, the plaintiff said. She said David demanded during the alleged assault that she look into his eyes, and said he was bullied as a child.
On another occasion as the two walked to a nearby grocery store, David told Reeves he was stopping to get supplies for his ``rape room,'' she alleged. In still another incident, David placed one of his fingers in his mouth, made moaning sounds and uttered a comment that referred to the private parts of her celebrity boyfriend at the time, Reeves testified.
Goldberg said the final straw for Reeves came in September 2016, when David returned from an absence and summoned her to his office for an update on a new show.
David allegedly closed the window blinds and the door, dropped his pants and forced her head toward his private parts. He then opened the door and called a sales executive into the office, hoping to convince the other man that she was giving David oral sex, according to the plaintiff, who left and never went back.
In his final argument Tuesday, Goldberg asked jurors to put themselves in Reeves' shoes, alone in an office with David as he allegedly drops his pants with no judge or jury present.
``Just imagine how frightening that would be,'' Goldberg said. ``This was despicable, disgusting behavior by a cruel man.''
Goldberg told the panel not to let David ``get away with this abhorrent behavior.''
But Garofalo said Reeves knew what she was getting into when she went to work for David, whose companies did not just make holograms, but also did television streaming with content meant to shock and make people think. Reeves created her own sexually oriented material, according to Garofalo, who showed written examples on a screen to jurors.
``It was her business,'' Garofalo said.
About 99% of those who worked for David enjoyed doing so, Garofalo said.
Garofalo told jurors that Reeves' testimony about the 14 incidents of alleged misconduct by David was not supported by the evidence, including the incident in David's office. She said Reeves is taller than David and that made her account of what happened unlikely.
Garofalo said David's repeated outbursts in the courtroom, which brought him continuing admonishments from Judge Terry Green, were attributable to his frustration with a system he feels is unfair stacked against him.
``He feels this is a set-up, a scam,'' Garofalo said.
David was behind the hologram technology that brought slain rapper Tupac Shakur to Coachella in 2012 and saw the late Michael Jackson moonwalk at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards.