NEW YORK: Weber Shandwick has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit that alleges the agency didn’t do enough to stop an employee creating an online harassment campaign against an internet personality and his girlfriend.
The suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court this month by plaintiff George Ouzounian and his girlfriend, is seeking $20 million in damages.
It also named Asterios Kokkinos, identified as a copywriter at Weber; Joshua Kaufman, the firm’s general counsel; online personality Dax Herrera, also known as Dick Masterson; Foundation Digital, an SEO and marketing firm founded by Herrera; Greg Boser and Loren Baker, cofounders of Foundation Digital; comedian Trevor Birt; online subscription platform Patreon; and Patreon creator relations lead Jordan Cope.
Ouzounian, a comedian, podcaster, author, and online personality known as Maddox, alleges that Herrera and Weber’s Kokkinos created an online harassment campaign against him and his girlfriend, referred to in the suit as "Jane Doe." They said the campaign included targeted ads on Facebook and Reddit and posts from Herrera and Kokkinos encouraging their followers to harass the couple, according to court documents.
The plaintiffs allege Weber was alerted to Kokkinos’ activities several times, including once by an activist who contacted the firm, but did not take action. The suit alleges Kokkinos used Weber’s equipment and resources to record a comedy album that became part of a trolling campaign against Ouzounian and his girlfriend, and that he did so during hours billed to Weber clients.
The online harassment, according to the lawsuit, resulted in online death threats, rape threats, and racial slurs directed toward Maddox and his girlfriend and in lost income, fans, and sponsors of Ouzounian’s show. It accuses Weber of negligence in hiring, retention, and supervision, along with negligent infliction of emotional distress. Ouzounian is requesting a jury trial in Manhattan.
Weber and the other defendants are required to answer the summons within 30 days.
Kevin Landau, managing partner of the Landau Group, confirmed his law firm is representing Ouzounian in the case.
A Weber spokesperson said in a statement that the agency is planning to fight the suit.
"We intend to vigorously contest the serious allegations in the lawsuit," the spokesperson said. "Beyond that, we cannot comment on pending litigation."
Kokkinos continues to be employed by the agency, according to the Weber representative.
Baker said via email that "neither Foundation Digital, myself, nor Greg Boser have any involvement with the publications, productions, and podcasts mentioned within this suit. Dax Herrera is a minority shareholder in Foundation Digital. We are consulting with legal counsel over the matter."
Reached via email, Herrera said, "All the claims and allegations made by George Ouzounian and Jane Doe are false and absurd, and their lawsuit is completely without merit."
"If the anonymous co-plaintiff ‘Jane Doe’ is who I suspect she is, she already has a restraining order against her in Los Angeles for trying to cause economic harm to someone associated with me," he said. "This suit is just another one of George Ouzounian’s attempts to cause economic harm to my associates and friends."
Cope and Kokkinos could not be immediately reached for comment.
"Maddox is one of the founding fathers of internet comedy; in his heyday Maddox would embrace hate mail and feature it regularly on his site. Today's Maddox blocks and bans anyone that dares to question his genius," Birt said, via email. "Fans have responded to this perceived hypocrisy with criticism, and Maddox has only derided, mocked, and insulted them. This lawsuit is a rebuttal to his fans that didn't side with him following The Biggest Problem in the Universe."
Patreon said in an emailed statement that it is "aware of the lawsuit between Maddox and Dick Masterson."
"Patreon is named in the suit as both creators have utilized Patreon in come capacity, but we don’t have any additional information to share at this time," the company said.
Kokkinos has tweeted several times about the lawsuit.
This story was updated on November 20 with additional information. It was updated on November 21 with comment from Patreon.