When a former nanny allegedly threatened to tell embarrassing and false stories about Rob Lowe and his family, the actor had two choices, said his lawyer, Stanton “Larry” Stein.
“You either succumb to their request or you fight back, and I think Rob felt that it was appropriate to, when improper things are said about him, to fight back,” Stein told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Friday in New York.
Jessica Gibson, the former nanny, had sent Lowe and his wife, Sheryl Berkoff, a letter saying that unless the celebrity couple paid her off by Friday, she would go public with allegations that Lowe conducted an affair with her and sexually harassed her.
Lowe decided to fight back first by posting a strong denial on the Huffington Post Web site, and then by filing a $1.5-million lawsuit against Gibson. He has also filed suit against two other former employees, nanny Laura Boyce and chef Peter Clements. All had signed confidentiality agreements when they were hired.
Stein admitted that rarely do celebrities go public with such complaints.
“It’s highly unusual,” he said. “But with the increase of the Internet and spying techniques like telescopic lenses, it is necessary for celebrities to try to protect themselves. They do that with confidentiality agreements, but when people violate those confidentiality agreements, they need to be aggressive about protecting themselves, and especially protecting their family. In this instance, the allegations were not just about Rob but about his wife and his family.”
It’s risky for anyone to bring people into their homes as employees who witness intimate family moments, Stein told Vieira.
“Unfortunately, if you have people who work within the household and these people have access to all your private affairs, there is the risk that things that you would want to keep confidential are not going to be confidential,” the celebrity lawyer said. “It’s better to air these things than to have somebody else make the allegations about you.”
Lowe’s civil suit presents a laundry list of allegations against Gibson, who worked for parts of seven years for the family, including breach of contract, defamation and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. They also allege that Gibson used their homes in Santa Barbara and London to have sexual liaisons and took illegal drugs while on duty with the couple’s two children, Matt, 14, and Owen, 13.
Clements, they allege, had sex in the Lowes’ bed with strangers, stole prescription drugs and damaged security cameras. Boyce, they allege, joined a conspiracy to defame the Lowes. It has been reported that the actor believes the three former employees joined together in the extortion attempt, but Stein refused to confirm or deny that. Clements worked for the family for a short time and Boyce for about 18 months, the suit says.
Stein said that he can’t discuss details of Lowe’s claims because local law enforcement agencies have opened an investigation to determine whether to pursue blackmail and extortion charges against Gibson and the others. Stein said that he has asked authorities not to pursue criminal charges, as they would hinder his civil suit.
There has been speculation that the former employees will file a countersuit against Lowe, which Stein said is a possibility.
The 44-year-old Lowe became famous as a young Brat Packer and star of the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire.” More recently, he starred on “The West Wing.”
He has previous experience with scandal. In 1988, a video surfaced of him having a sexual assignation with two women, one of whom proved to be 16, while he was in Atlanta for the Democratic National Convention. Lowe admitted to meeting the women in a bar and having no idea that one was a minor.
He subsequently went into rehab for alcohol and sex addiction and claims 18 years of sobriety.
Lowe’s lawsuit, Stein said, amounts to a pre-emptive strike that has one goal.
“Hopefully, they will go away,” he told Vieira. “They will recognize that we will not give in to their threats and they will go away.”