Tiger Woods' lawyers try to stop ex-girlfriend's lawsuit

Erica Herman says she was a victim of sexual assault because Woods threatened to fire her if she didn't sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Tiger Woods and ex-girlfriend Erica Herman.
Posted at 9:18 AM, May 09, 2023

Attorneys for golf superstar Tiger Woods are expected to argue Tuesday during a court hearing that his ex-girlfriend's lawsuit against him should be halted because she signed a nondisclosure agreement requiring that any disagreements between them be settled in private by an arbitrator.

Erica Herman, 39, is suing Woods to get out of the agreement, saying she was the victim of his sexual harassment. She has also filed a separate $30 million illegal eviction lawsuit against the trust that owns his $54 million Florida mansion.

Herman, who managed Woods' Palm Beach County restaurant before and during the first years of their romantic relationship, argues that the nondisclosure agreement is unenforceable under a new federal law that says such contracts can be voided when sexual abuse or sexual harassment occurred. Her attorney, Benjamin Hodas, contends that Woods' alleged threat to fire her if she didn't sign the contract was harassment.

"A boss imposing different work conditions on his employee because of their sexual relationship is sexual harassment," Hodas said.

Woods’ attorney, J.B. Murray, denies that the 47-year-old golfer ever sexually assaulted or harassed Herman, calling her accusations in court documents "utterly meritless." It is unknown if Woods will attend the hearing before Circuit Judge Elizabeth Metzger, the first in what could be a lengthy court battle.

In Herman's lawsuit against Woods, she wants Metzger to either void the nondisclosure agreement or at least give her guidance about what she can say publicly. For example, can she discuss events that happened before their agreement or after their breakup? What about information she learned about Woods from others? She is also arguing that the contract covers only her work relationship with Woods, not their personal matters.

In her unlawful eviction lawsuit against the trust, she is basing her $30 million claim on how much it would cost to rent a property like Woods' beachfront mansion north of Palm Beach for six years of residence she was allegedly promised by the golfer and then denied.

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When Hodas filed her lawsuit against the trust in October, he checked a box on a standardized form saying the case did not involve sexual abuse. In Herman’s March lawsuit against Woods, Hodas checked the box saying that case does involve abuse. Hodas has not explained the apparent discrepancy.

Before they dated, Woods hired Herman in 2014 to help develop and then operate the golfer’s The Woods sports bar and restaurant in nearby Jupiter — but they do not agree when their romantic relationship and cohabitation began.

Herman says in her court filings that their romantic relationship began in 2015 and that in late 2016 she moved into Woods' nearly 30,000-square-foot mansion in the ritzy Hobe Sound community. She says that in 2017, Woods verbally promised she could live there at least 11 more years.

Woods, in his court documents, says their romantic relationship began in 2017, shortly before she moved in with him that August — about the time the nondisclosure agreement was signed. In March 2017, Woods had placed the mansion into the Jupiter Island Irrevocable Homestead Trust, an entity he created that has only himself and his two children as beneficiaries. Forbes Magazine estimates Woods’ net worth at $1.1 billion.

Court documents filed by Woods' attorneys on Monday include an August 2017 email exchange between Herman and Christopher Hubman, the chief financial officer of Tiger Woods Ventures. Herman says she will sign the nondisclosure agreement, but expresses concern about how her romantic and professional lives are now intertwined.

"My only concern is if by chance TW does something that brings our relationship to an end, do I automatically (lose) my job?" she wrote. "I don't have any problem with what's in the document because I wouldn't go public or use anything I know to hurt him or the kids but with my whole life in his hands now I would want to have some kind of control over my future in the business.

"If something happened 5-10 years down the road I don't want to be in my 40s, heartbroken and jobless," she wrote.

Herman says Woods pressured her to quit her job managing his restaurant in 2020, saying he wanted her to spend more time taking care of him and his children.

Herman says Woods evicted her through "trickery." She says Woods told her they were going on a weekend trip to the Bahamas, so she packed a small bag and he drove her to the airport, where they parked near a private plane.

But instead of boarding, Woods told Herman to talk to his lawyer and left, she says.

"Out of the blue," the lawyer told her the relationship was over and that she was being evicted, she says. She says she refused to sign another nondisclosure agreement the lawyer tried to force upon her.

When Woods' lawyers returned her personal belongings, they kept $40,000 in cash, "making scurrilous and defamatory allegations" about how she obtained it, she alleges.