A New York judge on Tuesday denied an attempt by lawyers for President Donald Trump to dismiss a defamation case against a former “Apprentice” contestant who claims Trump groped her a decade ago.
This means that Summer Zervos’ complaint will now move forward.
Zervos, a former contestant on the NBC show, has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in 2007. She claims Trump kissed her twice on the lips during a lunch meeting in his New York City office, and on a separate occasion in Beverly Hills, she alleges he kissed her aggressively and touched her breast.
When Zervos spoke out in the weeks before the presidential election in 2016, Trump denied her claims.
The statute of limitations for the alleged misconduct has long passed. So Zervos and her lawyer Gloria Allred tried a different legal approach: They filed suit against Trump for defamation.
The suit, filed in January 2017, alleged that Trump harmed her reputation by essentially calling her a liar. (At one point he dismissed Zervos’ and another woman’s accusations at a campaign rally by calling them “total fiction” and “all false stuff.”)
“In a defamation action, the question is truth. That’s your defense in defamation: The truth of the matter. So the underlying action of sexual harassment gets litigated in this defamation action,” civil rights attorney Areva Martin said on CNN. “It’s a back-door way to talk about the sexual harassment, the groping, the touching.”
After the suit was filed, Trump lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that a president has immunity from such lawsuits in state courts.
Oral arguments were heard back in December. On Tuesday, Judge Jennifer Schecter sided with Zervos.
Schecter cited litigation against President Bill Clinton in the 1990s in ruling in favor of Zervos on Tuesday.
“No one is above the law. It is settled that the President of the United States has no immunity and is ‘subject to the laws’ for purely private acts,” Schecter wrote.
“For the very same reasons articulated in Clinton v Jones, a stay for the duration of the Trump presidency must be denied,” she added.
Schecter wrote that lawyers for the president have “to answer within 10 days of notice of entry of this order.”
The President’s team had no immediate comment on Tuesday.
When reached for comment by CNN, Allred said, “I am very happy and I have no further comment.”
Zervos is one of more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct ranging from groping of their buttocks and genitalia to unwanted kissing. He has also been accused by two additional women of inappropriate behavior such as ogling.
While Allred would not comment on whether or not Schecter’s decision would prompt other Trump accusers to file suits of their own, attorney Lisa Bloom, who represents several other women who have privately and publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct, believed it could – and even took to Twitter to demand “a rich Patriot to step forward and promise to pay all costs, fees and penalties for any Trump accuser who wants to speak out.”
“I applaud the decision to allow Summer’s case to go forward,” Bloom said in a statement emailed to CNN. “It is clearly the law that a sitting president can sue and be sued. I hope this will encourage other women to come forward.”
CNN’s Athena Jones and Sonia Moghe contributed to this report.