The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jorgen Nielsen in an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss a defamation claim filed by Steve Wynn back in 2018. The former hairstylist of Wynn Resorts faced legal action due to his participation in a story published by Wall Street Journal alleging the former CEO of the company of repeated sexual misconduct behaviour.
The three-justice opinion issued Tuesday reversed the decision of the lower court and ruled in favor of Jorgen Nielsen’s motion to dismiss the defamation suit filed against him for going on record in a press investigation into Steve Wynn’s alleged sexual harassment actions against some of his female employees.
Steve Wynn Had to Step Down
Following the allegations, Steve Wynn had to resign from the chief executive position in the company in February 2018. The company was fined $20 million by the Gaming Commission in the following year as the regulatory body stated it failed to investigate the claims of sexual misconduct.
Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to protect the freedom of speech from lawsuit threats aimed at intimidating people who are exercising their First Amendment rights, by allowing defendants to file a motion to dismiss. Nevada and other states have such laws in place, and under the Nevada law a court is required to determine two prongs before granting a special motion to dismiss.
District Court Ruled Against the Motion to Dismiss
The first prong denied the motion as District Court Judge Tierra Jones ruled the motion failed to establish the defamation claim was in regards to the right of petition or free speech in direct link to public concern issue. In other words, the court ruled Nielsen failed to made truthful statements or made without knowledge of them being false.
The Nevada Supreme Court reversed the decision by the District Court finding that the Nielsen’s remarks the plaintiff challenged as defamatory were fairly accurate and truthful. The remarks were also corroborated by an anonymous employee of Wynn Resorts who testified she experienced sexual harassment.
Based on an anti-SLAPP precedent set in a previous libel case filed by Danny Tarkanian, a perennial political candidate, the court ruled that Nielsen’s communication was truthful or made without knowledge of its falsehood.
The anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss will now go back to the District Court where Judge Jones should assess the second prong of the anti-SLAPP test, whether Steve Wynn demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the claim with prima facie evidence.
Another case, this time filed by Nielsen against Wynn Resorts in October 2019 for alleged engagement in a secret surveillance operation targeted at him two months after the departure of Steve Wynn, is still pending and has a jury trial scheduled for next year.