A comedy writer who says she endured months of sexual innuendo and inappropriate conduct by her wealthy boss and was awarded $650,000 in compensatory damages deserves another $30 million in punitive damages, her attorney told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury Tuesday.
On Friday, the jury found Alki David and his companies, Hologram USA Inc. and Alki David Productions Inc., liable to Lauren Reeves for sexual battery and sexual harassment. They also found that he acted with malice oppression or fraud, triggering a second phase to determine whether he should pay punitive damages.
Lawyer Nathan Goldberg said the 36-year-old plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages from her 51-year-old former boss, who Goldberg said is a billionaire.
“You don’t get more reprehensible than what he did to Ms. Reeves,” Goldberg said. “Who does he think he is?”
David’s attorney, Ellyn Garofalo, disputed the characterization of her client’s wealth and said he has endured substantial losses because of lawsuits like those filed by Reeves, telling jurors that “the businesses are gone” and “Mr. David is not a billionaire.”
Garofalo said David believes his financial losses are due to allegations “to some extent conjured up by lawyers and small groups of women.”
Garofalo showed the jurors copies of David’s tax returns showing negative balances in the millions of dollars.
Reeves was present for Tuesday’s proceedings, but David was absent from the courtroom, as he was when the verdict was read during the first phase of trial on Friday.
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 David.
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.
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.
About 99% of those who worked for David enjoyed doing so, 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.