A woman featured on MTV's "The Real World" who claims she was drunk when she signed an agreement with the show's producers won a victory in federal court here today when a judge refused to hand the case over to an arbitrator.
The woman, Golzar Amirmotazedi of Bethesda, who was a non-cast member of the show, is suing MTV Networks and its parent, Viacom Inc., for airing video last year that allegedly humiliated her. Her suit [.pdf] in Washington’s federal trial court claims invasion of privacy and emotional distress. She is seeking more than $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Lawyers for Viacom allege Amirmotazedi was not intoxicated when she signed a four-page agreement that said an arbitrator would decide any dispute. The agreement covers the terms of entry into “The Real World” group house in addition to a person’s appearance on the show itself.
After a night of drinking with the show’s cast at a midtown bar called The Sign of the Whale, Amirmotazedi signed the document before walking into “The Real World” guest house near Dupont Circle in Northwest Washington. She alleges she was later kicked out of the house because she refused to have sex with one of the men living there, according to the suit.
Senior Judge Gladys Kessler today denied Viacom’s request to let an arbitrator decide whether Amirmotazedi’s intoxication defense has merit. Voluntary intoxication, Kessler said, under District law, is a “type of mental capacity defense that permits an individual to avoid a contract if she was so intoxicated at the time of formation that she could not understand the terms and conditions of the agreement.”
The lawyers in the case dispute the events that led up to Amirmotazedi’s signing of the arbitration agreement.
Amirmotazedi’s attorneys, Jason Ehrenberg and Michael Tilghman II of Washington’s Bailey & Ehrenberg, claim cast members “fed her” eight to 10 drinks. Amirmotazedi said she has no recollection of signing the four-page arbitration agreement due to her heavy intoxication.
Lawyers for Viacom, represented by Washington’s Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, argue Amirmotazedi was not drunk at the time she signed the agreement. The TV program has a policy of prohibiting intoxicated people into the group house, according to Viacom’s attorneys, who include Levine Sullivan partner Michael Sullivan.
Viacom’s lawyers said an arbitrator, not a judge, should first decide the merits of Amirmotazedi’s intoxication defense. Click here for Viacom’s motion to compel arbitration.
Sullivan said this afternoon he is reviewing the opinion. He declined to comment immediately on the next steps. It was not immediately known whether Viacom planned to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review whether Kessler got it wrong.
Ehrenberg said this afternoon Kessler’s ruling is "significant from the standpoint that there is not a lot of case law that discusses” the legal issues that surfaced in Amirmotazedi’s suit.
“It’s an important case because we think someone was taken advantage of, quite frankly,” Ehrenberg said. “This is a case where this one individual appeared she was too intoxicated to consent” to signing a contract.
Kessler's ruling, Ehrenberg said, could "provide some protection for young people who get into these situations” on reality television programming. A status conference in the case is scheduled for later this month.