Get the latest from TODAY
Actor Rob Lowe’s former nanny claims she was sexually harassed and assaulted by Lowe but kept working because she loved the children, needed the work, and was frightened to speak out against a powerful celebrity employer.
Jessica Gibson’s allegations against the former “West Wing” star come on the heels of his suit claiming she and two other ex-employees violated confidentiality agreements.
“I love the children, I needed the job, and I always thought it would get better — and I was scared,” Gibson told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday, one day after she filed a countersuit against the actor and his makeup artist wife, Sheryl Berkoff.
“A lot of people in her position are scared to go against someone who is rich and powerful and a famous celebrity such as Rob Lowe,” added Gibson’s attorney, Gloria Allred.
Last week, the Lowes filed a civil suit against Gibson, who left their employment for good on Feb. 24. She had twice left the family before only to ask for her job back. When she left in February, she allegedly sent Lowe e-mails saying that she had enjoyed her work and wasn’t leaving because of anything the family did.
But, the Lowes claim in their suit, she later demanded $1.5 million in return for her silence about allegations of abuse. 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.
The Lowes also filed lawsuits against another former nanny and a chef who briefly worked for them.
On Monday, Gibson fired back, claiming that she was sexually assaulted, battered and harassed. She also says she was not properly paid for the hours and overtime she worked.
Gibson said very little during the interview on TODAY, deferring to her attorney, who sat by her side. Allred also declined to go into detail about her client’s allegations.
But in court documents filed Monday, Gibson alleges: “On several occasions beginning in or about September 2005 and ending in or about January 2008, without consent, Cross Defendant Rob Lowe placed his hand inside Gibson's pants in order to touch her crotch. In or about December 2007, Cross Defendant Lowe grabbed Gibson's buttocks without consent.”
Each side claims the other’s claims are totally unfounded.
Vieira asked Gibson why she didn’t go to law enforcement authorities to report the alleged abuse and harassment.
Gibson cited fear of retaliation, and Allred said the Lowes’ suit confirms that those fears were valid.
“Look what happened,” Allred said. “Her worst nightmare came true. She protested the sexual harassment and they came down on her with everything they have. They trashed her reputation, they made false allegations about her, and that is wrong. Maybe they thought she was just going to go away and be intimidated, but she is not going to hide. She is not going to go away. She’s going to vigorously assert her claims in her lawsuit.”
Allred denied that employment was as good as Gibson said in her e-mails, one of which began: “Sheryl, I am really sorry. I have nothing bad 2 say about your family and really am thankful for what you guys have done for me over the years. I hope we can handle this as friends. I did not leave out of spite or anger, it was just time for my heart to let go. I am embarassed (sic) that I just up and left like this but I could not see another way. It was time for me to move on.”
Vieira asked Gibson why she wrote the e-mails.
Gibson seemed unsure of what to say, and Allred jumped in, saying, “We’re going to talk about that in the lawsuit and why she did. I will say this: She was in fear of them. She was trying to appease them. She was trying to get away. And she’ll go into that in greater detail when it’s time for her to give her deposition.”
Stanton “Larry” Stein, the Lowes’ attorney, told TODAY last week that the family filed their suit as a pre-emptive strike. Some celebrities have chosen in the past to pay off former employees who threaten to go public with complaints rather than face the negative publicity, Stein said. But the Lowes refused to be blackmailed, he added.
“A lot of times when celebrities have these cases, they pay it off,” People magazine’s David Caplan told TODAY in a separate interview Tuesday. “The worst thing you can have is the publicity. This is a huge fear for celebrities. No one wants a scandal like this.”
Gibson and the other former employees being sued by the Lowes signed confidentiality agreements when they were hired, and the Lowes also allege that they broke those agreements.
Allred praised her client’s courage for speaking out. “I’m very proud of her, because it’s very hard to go up against someone who’s so powerful and so famous, and to allege these facts about sexual allegations, about sexual battery and retaliation, but she’s found the courage to do it,” she said.
Allred has asked to take depositions from the Lowes on May 19 and 20.
“We are looking forward to sitting across the table from him,” she said. “Jessica will be there, and I’ll be there eyeballing him.”