LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A former model on “The Price Is Right,” who claims she was sexually harassed when a male producer reprimanded her while she was half nude in a dressing room, can take her case to trial, a judge ruled today.
Lanisha Cole, who maintains the run-in was so embarrassing that she later resigned, filed her lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in September 2011. She named as defendants two of the show’s producers, Michael G. Richards and Adam Sandler — not the actor– and the production company, FremantleMedia North America.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Debre Katz Weintraub denied a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the case and scheduled a May 21 trial date.
She said a jury should decide Cole’s allegations of wrongful constructive termination, wrongful harassment, failure to prevent harassment and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
But Weintraub remained undecided whether Richards should stay in the case on the negligent infliction of emotional distress allegation only. She took that part of the case under submission.
Cole’s attorney, Solomon Gresen, said he was happy with the decision.
“Overall, the ruling was thoughtful and gave insight into the court’s reasoning,” Gresen said.
Cole is a former colleague of one-time “TPIR” model Brandi Cochran, a Stevenson Ranch resident who won more than $8.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the show’s producers last November in a pregnancy discrimination case. The award was overturned last month by the trial judge, who said he gave the jury a wrong instruction.
Cole is a 30-year-old Pasadena native. She started working on the show in 2003 and alleges her mistreatment began in December 2009, when Richards allegedly ceased talking to her. She claims he gave favorable treatment to another model, Amber Lancaster, with whom he was involved in a relationship.
Lancaster showed Cole text messages from Richards that were stored on her phone, the suit states.
But defense attorney Kate Gold said there was no evidence of a romantic relationship between Richards and Lancaster. Weintraub agreed, saying she was not persuaded otherwise by Gresen.
Sandler walked into Cole’s dressing room in September 2010 without knocking and reprimanded her in front of her peers as she stood wearing only a thong bikini underwear bottom, according to the suit.
Cole’s account of the alleged encounter with Sandler are contained within her deposition, portions of which were cited by defense attorneys in favor of their argument that the model’s case should be dismissed.
Gold said Cole never reported the alleged incident to the company’s human resources department, that Sandler never made any comments about her body and that he did not try and block her from leaving.
Gold also said the incident lasted no more than two minutes and that Cole did not make any other allegations of sexual harassment during her seven years on the show. But Weintraub said a jury could find that the dressing room incident was harassment and that Cole could have found it so intolerable she had to quit. Sanders did not turn away or apologize to Cole, the judge said. Defense attorneys also maintain Cole was insubordinate to Richards, questioning him in front of other models whether he remodeled the dressing room for their benefit or for that of the show’s celebrity guests. Richards had told the models he made the improvements on their behalf, according to the defense lawyers’ court papers.
According to Cole’s deposition, the dressing room incident stemmed from her inability to respond to a routine on-stage comment made to her by host Drew Carey because she did not have a microphone.
Cole says that after she went to the models’ dressing room to change during a subsequent commercial break, Sandler suddenly came through the curtains and asked why she did not have her microphone so she could answer Carey.
Cole said she told Sandler that she did not have time to put on the device because she needed more time to get dressed and that the director was “screaming” at the stage manager to get the model out there.
Asked by Gold what she wearing when Sandler walked in, Cole replied, “Just my underwear, my thong,” Cole replied.
“You were not wearing a bra?,” Gold asked.
“No,” Cole replied.
Asked by the lawyer if Sandler was preventing her from leaving in some way, Cole replied, “He wasn’t blocking me from going backwards, no.”
She said she was too surprised by what was happening to try and hide behind a couch in the room.
“When you’re in a moment like that … part of you is in shock and another part of you is … like you just can’t believe what was going on,” Cole said. “But I know for a fact that I couldn’t believe that I was standing there naked and he was still talking to me without even trying to cover his eyes or at least apologize or something. He said nothing about the fact that I was standing in front of him nude.”
Asked by Gold whether she reached for something to cover herself, Cole said, “There was nothing in front of me.”
Questioned whether she told Sandler that she was nude and that he should leave, Cole replied, “It’s obvious that I was naked. I don’t have to tell him.”
Cole says she quit the show three months later out of frustration with the production company’s refusal to properly investigate her complaints. She is currently pursuing other modeling and acting opportunities as well as her “passion for photography,” Gresen said.
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