Posted on Sunday, 12.09.12
BY JENNIFER PELTZ
NEW YORK — Her side said she was seeking justice after prosecutors gave up on her sexual assault case. His said she slandered him in a grab for money.
But a hotel housekeeper’s lawsuit against former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn may soon end without public vindication for either of them.
The maid, Nafissatou Diallo, is expected to be there, but Strauss-Kahn is not, when lawyers for both meet for a key court date at 2 p.m. Monday to update a judge on the status of settlement discussions.
If a deal is inked, it could be simply the product of a meeting of financial motives – getting compensated for an alleged wrong versus avoiding further legal expenses and the uncertainty of a trial. It might be fueled by legal calculus in a case with two key figures who could face uncomfortable questions on a witness stand, or by personal desires to move on. Or all of the above.
“There are a lot of factors that go into why someone settles a case when they do, and it really comes down to, in large part, the appetite that litigants have for being in litigation,” said Stuart Slotnick, a New York lawyer whose recent work includes representing American Apparel CEO Dov Charney in a sexual harassment case filed by an employee. “There are people whose lives are disrupted by virtue of the fact that they know they are being sued or are involved in litigation.”
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers acknowledged late last month there had been settlement talks, though they dismissed as “flatly false” a French newspaper report that Strauss-Kahn had agreed to pay $6 million. Diallo’s lawyers have declined to comment.
Both Diallo’s and Strauss-Kahn’s lives have been upended since the day in May 2011 that she reported he forced her to perform oral sex and tried to rape her after she went to clean his room. He said the encounter was consensual.
Diallo, 33, a Guinean immigrant and widowed mother of a teenage girl, was whisked into protective custody with her daughter for weeks in a hotel. She hasn’t returned to the job she held for three years at the Sofitel New York; she is on workers’ compensation, the hotel chain says. Her lawyers have said Strauss-Kahn tore a ligament in her shoulder, which he disputes.
Strauss-Kahn, 63, was arrested and charged with attempted rape and other crimes and resigned from his IMF job. He soon found himself recast from promising, if philandering, French presidential contender to transcontinental sexual suspect. Since Diallo came forward, other sexual assault and prostitution allegations have emerged against him.
Though some were withdrawn or deemed too old for prosecutors to pursue, he faces aggravated pimping charges related to a suspected prostitution ring run from a French luxury hotel. He says he attended “libertine” gatherings but wasn’t aware anyone was paid for sex. A French court is due to rule Dec. 19 on his bid to get those charges thrown out.
Adding further turmoil to his personal life, Strauss-Kahn and his wife, journalist Ann Sinclair, have separated. Strauss-Kahn has been trying to rebuild his professional stature by giving speeches at international conferences and reportedly setting up a consulting company in Paris.
Manhattan prosecutors dropped their case against Strauss-Kahn in August 2011, saying they had developed doubts about Diallo’s trustworthiness. They said she had wavered in recounting her movements after the alleged attack and lied to them about her past, including a convincing but fictitious story of being gang-raped before.
She said she gave an honest account of her encounter with Strauss-Kahn, and her attorneys said her civil case would prove her right.
“It didn’t happen with the DA, but we intend to vindicate Ms. Diallo’s rights,” one of her lawyers, Kenneth P. Thompson, said in March.
Strauss-Kahn’s side was no less blunt.
“We have maintained from the beginning that the motivation of Mr. Thompson and his client was to make money,” William W. Taylor III and other Strauss-Kahn attorneys said when Diallo sued in August 2011. Strauss-Kahn later filed a $1 million defamation suit against her.
Neither case has come close to trial.
Statistically, a settlement is no surprise. In a federal Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of nearly 440,000 state-court civil cases that were closed in 2005, only about 3 percent went to trial. The rest were settled, dropped or tossed out.
And in Diallo’s case, a trial could have red flags for both sides.
For Strauss-Kahn, it could mean a public dissection of his sexual history, since Diallo’s suit argued that their encounter reflected a pattern of misogynistic behavior, noted Paul F. Callan, a New York-based lawyer who represented Nicole Brown Simpson’s relatives in their wrongful-death suit against O.J. Simpson.
And Diallo would likely again have faced questions about her truthfulness. While the criminal case legally has no bearing on the lawsuit, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers would be able to attack her credibility by drawing on the inconsistencies prosecutors raised, legal observers say.
“When cases have serious problems on both sides, that’s when they settle,” Callan said.
Women’s-rights advocates rallied to express support for Diallo after the criminal charges were dropped last year.
Advocates deplore seeing women painted as gold-diggers for filing sexual assault suits, and settlements shouldn’t reinforce that image, said Sonia Ossorio, the president of the National Organization for Women’s New York City chapter.
“It’s hard to come to that conclusion when you see what the ramifications of coming forward are to you in your community, and the detrimental effects it has on your professional life” in some cases, she said.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, which Diallo did.