Pop star and former American Idol judge Paula Abdul has sued Nigel Lythgoe, a former producer of the show, for sexual assault. The lawsuit claims that Lythgoe, later the creator and host of So You Think You Can Dance, attempted to force himself on her twice during during Abdul’s tenure on both that show and Idol, and later groped one of her assistants.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles court on Dec. 29, also names Idol distribution company Fremantle Media North America and production company 19 Entertainment as defendants. The suit alleges sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, and negligence. The lawsuit was first obtained by TMZ.
The lawsuit states: “For years, Abdul has remained silent about the sexual assaults and harassment she experienced on account of Lythgoe due to fear of speaking out against one of the most well-known producers of television competition shows who could easily break her career as a television personality and of being ostracized and blackballed by an industry that had a pattern of protecting powerful men and silencing survivors of sexual assault.”
Abdul, who served as one of the three judges on Idol from its debut in 2002 until 2009, alleges in the suit that Lythgoe first assaulted her during an unspecified year early in the show’s run, allegedly groping her and forcibly kissing her in an elevator. Abdul says she broke away when the elevator doors opened and informed one of her representatives about the incident.
The suit alleges a second incident in 2014, after Abdul’s tenure with Idol, when she briefly became a judge on Lythgoe’s So You Think You Can Dance. This alleged incident occurred at Lythgoe’s home, when he invited Abdul over for what she says she believed was a “professional” meeting. Again, the suit claims Lythgoe attempted to forcibly kiss her, and she broke away. Additionally, the suit claims that Abdul witnessed Lythgoe grope one of her assistants in 2015. Abdul left So You Think You Can Dance after two seasons.
The suit also alleges that Lythgoe later taunted Abdul about the incidents: “Lythgoe called Abdul and taunted her that they should celebrate,” the suit claims, “because it had been ‘seven years and the statute of limitations had run.’ Lythgoe clearly knew that his assaults of Abdul were not just wrong but that he held the power to keep her silent.”
The suit also alleges that Abdul was paid less than the male judges on Idol, and that the show was edited in a way that was misleadingly unflattering to her.
The suit was filed under California’s Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act, which allows alleged victims of sexual misconduct to file lawsuits even after the statute of limitations has expired. Jermaine Jackson was also sued for assault under the law on Dec. 27. The law, which expires at the end of 2023, is similar to New York’s new-expired Adult Survivors Act, through which Sean “Diddy” Combs, Axl Rose and Jimmy Iovine were also sued for sexual misconduct in November.
Q reached out to Lythgoe’s representatives as well as Fremantle Media for comment late on Friday night.