Jay Asher, the author of several YA novels including Thirteen Reasons Why (Penguin), has filed a lawsuit against the US branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and its executive director, Lin Oliver, following last year’s accusations of sexual harassment.
Last year SCBWI members wrote emails to Oliver and SCBWI claiming sexual harassment. In February Oliver said she had expelled Asher, along with illustrator David Diaz, because of the allegations.
In the comments under a School Library Journal article about sexual harassment in children’s publishing, she said: “Two men have been reported—David Diaz and Jay Asher. Both have been expelled from the SCBWI and are not welcome as members, faculty or speakers… There is a zero tolerance policy for harassment, there is a preponderance of powerful and respected women on our board, on our staff, and in our membership; there is absolute parity of payment without regard for gender; there are huge staff benefits for women and their dependents; everyone at the SCBWI at the 'director' level is a woman; and we do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind.”
In an email to Associated Press, Oliver said both Asher and Diaz “were found to have violated the SCBWI code of conduct”, adding: “Claims against them were investigated and, as a result, they are no longer members and neither will be appearing at any SCBWI events in the future.”
Asher later contradicted her claims, saying he had left the organisation of his own accord.
He has now filed a lawsuit with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeking monetary damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit says Oliver and SCBWI received two anonymous emails. These emails were purportedly from seven women members of the group, who alleged Asher was using SCBIW to lure women sexually, that he preyed upon women in the organisation, and that he intimidated the seven women into silence by threatening them.
The lawsuit says that some members of SCBWI were “resentful” of Asher’s success, and were “determined to destroy” what he had worked hard to achieve, and that even though he had relationships with SCBWI members, none were “initiated, maintained or ended as described”.
The defendants not only “had no reasonable basis to believe these statements” but even “knew the statements to be false”, the lawsuit claims.
Asher’s lawyer, Patrick L. Fisher, said in a statement: "SCBWI failed to conduct an investigation of any kind, and intentionally ignored evidence that would have shown Mr. Asher was completely innocent. Instead, SCBWI recklessly issued a false statement—in the heat of the 'Me-Too' movement—that unfairly damaged the reputation and career of one of the country’s most successful young adult authors. We look forward to presenting these facts to a jury."
In comments given to the New York Times, Andrew Baum, a lawyer representing Oliver and SCBWI, said that both parties "reject, and will vigorously defend against, Asher’s claims," and declined further comment.