Russell Simmons sued for alleged rape of ex-Def Jam executive

A former Def Jam Recordings music exec alleges co-founder Russell Simmons derailed her career after he raped her in the '90s.
Russell Simmons is pictured.
Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 13, 2024

Music mogul Russell Simmons has been sued by a former Def Jam Recordings executive who says the label co-founder raped her at his apartment in the mid-1990s.

The plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit filed in New York federal court Tuesday, said her career in the music industry was "disrupted and derailed" by Simmons' alleged abusive behavior, which the suit claims went unchallenged for decades due to his wealth and influence.

"While at first Mr. Simmons and Ms. Doe had a professional working relationship, Mr. Simmons revealed his true colors and, through his assaultive behavior, disabled Ms. Doe's career at Def Jam, a job she loved, at the height of her success and financial viability," the complaint states.

Simmons co-founded Def Jam Recordings with Rick Rubin in the 1980s, solidifying the pair as pioneering figures in the hip-hop world. Jane Doe says she was working as a senior-level music executive at the label, leading the video production division through "rapid growth and expansion," when the alleged harassment began.

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On one occasion, Doe says she went to Simmons' Manhattan apartment to get his approval of a music video, which she says was a common practice at the label. That time, however, Simmons' alleged continued sexual harassment — which she claims included him making innuendos, advances and following her around the office — escalated. 

Doe says the music producer tried to "wrestle" her "in an attempt to appear playful" before asking her to have sex with him. The plaintiff says despite her repeated rejections, Simmons insisted, "forcefully pinned" her down on the bed then raped her, the lawsuit states.

The complaint says Doe was "forever changed" after the alleged incident and began suffering "overwhelming anxiety, shame, humiliation and debilitating low self-esteem." Shortly after, she resigned from Def Jam and moved to Los Angeles, where she says she left three high-end production jobs in two years due to mental health struggles.

Jane Doe, who now works as a film writer and producer, seeks at least $75,000 in damages for the charges of sexual battery/assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and a violation of New York's Gender Motivated Violence Act. 

It was also filed under New York's Adult Survivors Act, which allowed sexual assault survivors a one-year window to pursue legal action against abusers no matter when it occurred. Many other high-profile figures were sued under the law, including Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jamie Foxx, Jimmy Iovine and Cuba Gooding Jr. However, the window closed in November, so it's unclear whether this suit can proceed under the act.

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Still, Jane Doe's suit adds another sexual assault claim against Simmons, whose troubles began in 2017 as the #MeToo movement took hold of the entertainment industry.

In November of that year, model Keri Claussen Khalighi and writer Jenny Lumet came forward with rape allegations against Simmons — both crimes separately taking place in 1991 and while the former was 17 years old. The next month, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times both published reports on the same day detailing nine women's accounts of Simmons sexually assaulting them, four of whom alleged rape.

In total, at least 14 assault and rape claims have come out against Simmons. He had already sold his share of Def Jam decades before the allegations, but he stepped down from his other roles at the label and multiple other jobs following them.

Simmons has denied the allegations against him, saying after Khalighi came forward in 2017, "I completely and unequivocally deny the horrendous allegations of non-consensual sex against me with every fiber of my being … Abusing women in any way shape or form violates the very core of my being."

In December, Simmons repeated these notions during an interview on "In Depth with Graham Bensinger."

"I've never been violent to anybody," Simmons said. "Of course I've been insensitive, but certainly never been forceful in any of my relationships, all of which I've had have been consensual."

He also revealed during the segment that he'd slept with "thousands" of people and was in "so many compromising situations that people can have a recollection from 30 or 40 years ago, and it can be different from my recollection."