Porn performers who sued pornographers

In the comment thread under this post I said: “I’m not aware of a single case of a woman who felt she was abused on a porn set getting any legal redress”, well, I’ve done some googling (up to page 11 for the search engine term “porn star sues pornographer”), and below are the only cases I could find that even came close (none of them are specifically and directly about the conditions of making pornography, except, perhaps, for the case of syphilis exposure).

There were lots of results for ‘revenge porn’, and for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation who had recordings made of their abuse, but very few (credible) cases of a porn performer being able to sue the porn company that had exploited them.

Married Porn Star Sues BangBros Citing Florida’s Antiquated Law Against Adultery

Isabella’s Turn is the rarest of things: a porno with a truly unexpected ending.

It begins normally enough. A busty brunette named Isabella walks into an all-white office room. A sleazy dude with hand tattoos says, “So what brings you here today? You want to be in a pornography movie?”

“Yep, because I like to have sex,” Isabella answers. “You know, making a little money off of it isn’t so bad either. So why not give it a shot?” Sleazy dude takes photos. The two get naked. Yadda yadda yadda. You know the rest.

It’s only when the cameras stop rolling that shit starts to get weird.

The skin flick was shot in a warehouse near Miami International Airport on February 13, 2008, and released Valentine’s Day (because nothing says romance like anonymous sex). Six years later, it is now at the center of one of the strangest legal battles Miami has ever seen.

This past April 30, the Puerto Rican porn star filed an anonymous, 11-page lawsuit against BangBros.com, the film studio Venetian Productions, and a half-dozen adult film affiliates.

Simply put, Isabella Unknown v. Venetian Productions and BangBros.com et al. is one of the most ingenious legal maneuvers we’ve ever seen. It’s the Miami porn industry’s Marbury v. Madison: a lawsuit so devilishly simple it threatens to undermine a multibillion-dollar business.

In her suit, Isabella claims her contract with BangBros is “illegal and unenforceable because the consideration given by Isabella to the Defendants was sexual intercourse outside of marriage, which violates the public policy of the State of Florida.” Without a valid contract, the porn — which is still available online to this day — is “an invasion of her privacy” for which Isabella is due “restitution.”

Translated from legalese: Isabella’s contract with BangBros was bogus. Why? Because she was married when she boned for $1,000.

Florida is one of 21 states that still legally prohibit adultery. In the Sunshine State, Statute 798 prescribes up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for “any man or woman, married or unmarried, [who] engages in open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior,” although it is almost never enforced.

For the past three years, Florida legislators have proposed overturning the antiquated legislation. In January, Rep. Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) asked his fellow politicians to “have the intestinal fortitude to repeal what is a ridiculous law.”

They didn’t. And so Statute 798 remained on the books. Then this April — a year after the statute of limitations for the lewd and lascivious act expired — the porn star filed her complaint. Included in the lawsuit is a copy of her contract. Under “description of services,” it says simply: “B/G Facial.”

Isabella’s Turn begins normally enough, but ends with a thorny lawsuit Lawrence Metsch, Isabella’s attorney, tells New Times he has gone to great lengths to conceal his client’s true identity. He says he can’t discuss the case because of a confidentiality agreement.

County records show Metsch voluntarily withdrew the suit hours after it was filed, suggesting Isabella received a settlement. Lawyers for BangBros and Venetian Productions did not return requests for comment.

Whether or not Isabella’s shrewd legal reach-around paid off, the lawsuit poses problems for Florida’s porn industry. As long as adultery remains illegal, what’s to stop other porn stars from flashing their wedding rings in court and asking for cash?

Nothing, says UM associate law professor Andrew B. Dawson. In fact, Isabella’s lawsuit could open a pandora’s box of problems for Florida’s porn industry.

“If this were to apply to all adult films, this would not make adult films illegal but would make contracts in this field void,” he says. “This would allow the actor to later bring the sort of invasion of privacy allegations as Isabella sought here, since the actor’s consent to use of his image for distribution would likewise be void.

“Effectively, it would give the actor the right to seek to stop the film from being distributed (perhaps just to get his image off the internet) or to ask for more money, especially when the video was more profitable than the actor had anticipated,” Dawson says.

The adult film industry phrase “money shot” just took on a whole new meaning.

The above is hardly a victory for women’s collective human rights (even though it would be great if an antiquated law was used to bankrupt pornographers, but it is a law that was obviously used to hurt women back when it was enforced).

The next example I found was of a porn performer being thrown off a roof into a swimming pool during a photo shoot for Hustler magazine, causing her to break her foot. When the woman tried to sue the man who had thrown her, his lawyer argued that she had signed a contract to be thrown from the roof (with no stunt training or safety precautions), so she had no grounds to sue.

It shows facts your client always omits: she was under contract to Hustler and agreed with Hustler’s request that she be photographed while being thrown off the roof. I always thought that this kind of thing was Photoshopped instead. Perhaps Hustler’s editorial standards would not permit it. Perhaps she insists on doing all her own stunts. I really do not know.

In all events, she agreed. Very few people I know would make that choice. But there it is. And chronologically, she’s an adult competent to make it. Hustler and your client asked Mr. Bilzerian to be the thrower, and we can all agree that was the better end of the deal.

Like your client, the facts of the claim won’t, quite, fly.

The lawyers letter was mocking and sarcastic, as is the report I found. The message is clear, she’s a dumb whore who knew what she was getting herself into.

It seems very unlikely that a similar argument would hold on a professional film set; there is no other area where it is considered possible for people to ‘choose’ a dangerous work environment without adequate safety precautions.

I was pleased to be able to find one case of a female porn performer successfully suing both the porn company and the male porn performer who exposed her to syphilis:

An adult film actress and a production company settled a lawsuit she filed after she allegedly became exposed to syphilis while shooting a video.

Heather DeAngelo, known in the porn industry as Lylith Lavey, sued BangBros in February 2014 in Los Angeles Superior Court. Her attorneys filed court papers March 13 with Judge Teresa Beaudet stating that the case was resolved. No details were divulged.

The suit alleged the company should have known that actor Marcus Spencer had the communicable disease.

DeAngelo suffered emotional distress as well as castigation from others in her field as a result of the incident, the suit states. She did not contract the disease.

“Plaintiff completed the scene with Mr. Marcus and subsequently found out that (he) had syphilis,” the suit stated.

The county issued a temporary moratorium on pornographic filming after the incident and implemented stricter requirements to ensure that pornographic producers ensure the safety of the actors, according to the complaint.

DeAngelo previously filed a lawsuit against Spencer over being exposed syphilis, alleging fraud, negligence, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She obtained a $129,360 default judgment against him last June.

‘Mr Marcus’ was previously sentenced to 30 days in jail, 36 months’ probation and 15 days of community labor for altering a test result and exposing at least two women to syphilis during porn production.

The only other result I found was this one:

A Bay Area adult film performer and director is suing her former studio, stating she was fired for reporting the company’s co-owner to the FBI for having an alleged sexual relationship with a minor. Elise Graves, identified here by her stage name, claims she faced retaliation from Intersec Interactive for acting as a whistleblower, in violation of California labor law. Graves and another former Intersec star, whose stage name is Cyd Black, also allege that the BDSM porn production company further violated the law by misclassifying them as contractors, withholding wages and violating agreements on consent during porn shoots.

In a climate where BDSM is often marginalized, and practitioners frequently find themselves on the defense against bigotry and threats from hostile forces seeking to censor their artistic and sexual expression, this lawsuit turns a spotlight on the internal practices of an influential and controversial porn company credited with pioneering BDSM live shows online. Intersec Interactive operates a studio in Oakland, while a website it previously ran, Insex.com, regularly featured performers who are now affiliated with Kink.com, the Bay Area’s most recognizable producer of BDSM content.

The case also highlights the risks that whistleblowers take in approaching the authorities with claims of wrongdoing — lost wages, and lost friends. Whether the authorities find merit in the claims made by Graves or not, her right to raise them and be protected in her actions is an important cornerstone to effective whistleblower protection.

The article, is, obviously, pro sex industry, and pro BDSM, read this post, “Graphic Sexual Horror” for a more balanced account.

One response

  1. I’ve just realised I forgot to include the link regarding the woman whose foot was broken by being thrown from a roof during a Hustler photo shoot, here’s the link:

    http://abovethelaw.com/2014/05/the-most-epic-lawyer-response-ever-to-a-porn-star-threatening-to-sue/

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