The former head of James Brown's West Coast business operations is suing the R&B legend for $2 million, claiming the singer sexually harassed her and then fired her when she rejected his advances.
Lisa Agbalaya, former president of The New James Brown Enterprises Inc. James Brown West, filed the suit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court. The 28-page lawsuit alleges that the singer began "a consistent pattern of discrimination and harassment" in 1999, and that it continued until her dismissal in February.
Debra Opri, Brown's Beverly Hills, Calif., lawyer, said her client denies all the charges. "Every allegation is false," she said, calling Agbalaya a "disgruntled employee. This is a case of extortion, plain and simple."
Agbalaya began working for Brown in April 1993 and reported directly to him, according to the suit. Her duties included meeting with radio programmers and scheduling the singer's TV and movie appearances.
The suit alleges that Brown told Agbalaya, "The only way for a woman to be successful is to sleep with her boss." It also claims he offered to marry her and take care of her sons "if anything went wrong with her relationship with her husband."
Several Alleged Incidents
The suit cites several alleged incidents, including a November dinner party where Agbalaya claims Brown told her that the government had given him "bull testicles" to make him "harder and stronger." Agbalaya also claims that Brown told her that she was "built like a stallion, just right for riding."
The suit also alleges that, while Agbalaya was at a business meeting which occurred at Brown's home in Beech Island, S.C., according to Agbalaya's Beverly Hills lawyer, Matthew Herrell a shirtless, marijuana-smoking Brown made sexual advances toward her. "Brown presented Agbalaya with a pair of zebra print underwear and demanded that she wear them while he massaged her with oil," the suit says. "Brown also repeatedly attempted to improperly touch Agbalaya by hugging her and holding her around her waist."
"Evidence will come out very quickly to prove that there is no way these things happened," Opri said. "We have witnesses who will bear that out."
The suit says Agbalaya discouraged Brown's advances, but she could not leave the premises because of guard dogs and an electronic fence. She then was sent back to California at Brown's insistence, the suit says.
Agbalaya alleges that, after the incident, Brown pressured her to sign a disclaimer saying she would never sue Brown for any claim. She says she complained numerous times to her supervisors but was told that was "simply how James Brown was." Agbalaya later filed complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Allegations Of Gender Discrimination
She claims that following these incidents, Brown backed out of or rejected appearances she had booked, including a New Year's Eve 1999 party for President Clinton and a National Football League playoff game, on each occasion claiming that she hadn't negotiated enough money for Brown. The suit classifies these acts as "retaliatory," in that they gave The New James Brown Enterprises grounds to dismiss her in February. The suit claims the dismissal was an act of gender discrimination under California law.
Agbalaya also says she had repeatedly received bonuses and compliments for the high quality of her work and that her dismissal came only after she rejected Brown's advances.
The suit includes three letters from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing dated Feb. 7, in which the department gave her a "right-to-sue" notice based on the previously filed complaints.
The lawsuit even refers to one of Brown's most popular songs, "Sex Machine," in an attempt to characterize the singer's behavior.
She is suing Brown, as well as The New James Brown Enterprises James Brown West, for $1 million on the charges of sexual harassment and hostile work environment, sex discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is suing for an additional $1 million on the charge of wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
(This story was updated at 5:45 PM EDT on Wednesday, May 24, 2000.)