Rutgers Student Sues Imus, Claiming Radio Host Harmed Her Reputation

August 16, 2007

A member of the Rutgers women’s basketball team sued Don Imus and CBS this week, claiming the radio personality’s sexist and racist comments about the team damaged her reputation.

Kia Vaughn filed the defamation of character lawsuit in state Supreme Court in the Bronx the same day Imus, who was fired after his comments, settled with CBS Radio in a deal that pre-empts his threatened $120 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS.

Vaughn’s lawsuit, believed to be the first by a player in the case, says Imus and his former co-host Bernard McGuirk along with CBS Corp., CBS Radio, MSNBC and other media outlets that broadcast his show are legally responsible for damage done to her character and reputation. There is no dollar amount listed in the suit.

Vaughn’s attorney, Richard Ancowitz, said, “The full effect of the damage remains to be seen.”

“This is about Kia Vaughn’s good name,” Ancowitz said. “She would do anything to return to her life as a student and respected basketball player — a more simple life before Imus opened his mouth.”

Imus referred to the basketball players as “nappy-headed hos” on his nationally syndicated radio program April 4 and became the target of heated protests led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. He was fired shortly after. But he overcame a major hurdle in his widely expected comeback with the settlement Tuesday. It’s possible he will return to the air.

The Vaughn suit claims that the comments were made in the context of a news or sports report and therefore Imus had certain standards to abide by but ignored them. The suit reprints the script from the “Imus in the Morning” show on which the comments were made.

“The … false, defamatory, sexually denigrating and slanderous statements and comments against the women athletes of said basketball team were heard, believed and understood by millions of listeners … as factual pronouncements concerning the character, chastity and reputation of the plaintiff,” the lawsuit says.

Vaughn was humiliated, embarrassed and publicly mocked for the comments, the suit claims.

A telephone message left for Imus’ attorney was not immediately returned Tuesday. A spokeswoman for CBS Radio declined to comment, and CBS network spokesman Dana McClintock did not immediately return a message. MSNBC said it hadn’t seen the lawsuit.

A Rutgers athletics spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Tuesday night.

Vaughn, a junior from the Bronx who was a center on the team, had spoken out about Imus on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. She said the comments completely overshadowed her team’s amazing season — one the coach has called the most rewarding of her career.

“Our moment was stolen from us,” Vaughn said. “Instead of us coming here to enjoy what we accomplished and how far we came, we had to sit back and look at media asking questions about what he said.”

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