Russell Simmons Sued for Sexual Assault by Former Def Jam Executive

A former Def Jam executive has sued Russell Simmons for sexual harassment and battery, claiming the embattled label founder pulled a “wrestling move” to pin her to the bed in his New York apartment and raped her in the 1990s, according to court documents obtained by Rolling Stone.

The Jane Doe filed suit in New York federal court on Tuesday and is now among 20 women to accuse Simmons of sexual assault or harassment, according to the suit. Doe claims she joined the record label as a senior-level music executive in the mid-1990s and that Simmons “disrupted and derailed” her career after the alleged assault. The listed causes of action include sexual battery/assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Attempts to reach Simmons were not immediately successful.)

Per the lawsuit, Simmons was professional with Jane Doe when they first met, but that prior to the assault, he eventually began harassing her at work. “Mr. Simmons would arrive at Def Jam, enter Ms. Doe’s office, and shut the door behind him,” the suit said. “He would sit on her desk, lean over her, aggressively invading her personal space while making sexual innuendos, suggestions, and advances, and rubbing the front of his pants.”

On the day of the assault, Doe was required to go to Simmons’ apartment so he could review a music video she’d produced. Going to Simmons’ apartment for work was common, according to the suit, and Doe had gone there to review videos before with no issue. But on this alleged occurrence, after she’d arrived, “Simmons began to “wrestle” with Ms. Doe in an attempt to appear playful.” “The situation escalated into aggression and Mr. Simmons pinned Ms. Doe down on a bed,” the suit said. “Ms. Doe repeatedly told Mr. Simmons to get off of her, but he refused. Mr. Simmons proceeded to rape her.”

After the assault, the lawsuit said, the plaintiff “experienced overwhelming anxiety, shame, humiliation and debilitating low self-esteem.” By 1997, Doe quit her job and moved to California. She’d subsequently pick up other jobs in the entertainment industry, the suit said, but the previous incident with Simmons had traumatized her and made it difficult for her to handle work and stressful situations with male employers. She’d left three jobs in a two-year period, the suit said, and claimed that after going to therapy she was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder.

The plaintiff began to tell family and friends of her alleged experience with Simmons after seeing other survivors come forward, as she was “struck by how similar they were to her own horrible experience at the hands of Mr. Simmons.” Other women who’ve come forward include Drew Dixon, who first came forward with her allegations in 2017. Dixon has also sued record executive L.A. Reid of sexually assaulting her as well, filing a lawsuit last November.

Doe claimed in the suit that she’d encountered Simmons several times since the alleged assault, including as recently as March 2023 at a yoga class in Los Angeles. Per the suit, she placed her yoga mat next to his without realizing it was Simmons next to her. Shocked to see him, Doe asked if she could practice there. According to the suit, Simmons allegedly replied: “Of course. What, do you think, I’m gonna try and fuck you?”

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“Ms. Doe was horrified,” the suit said. “She realized not only was he unapologetic towards her personally, he did not appreciate that the assault was wrong.” Doe is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial. The lawsuit was filed under the state’s Gender Motivated Violence Act, which provides a lookback window for survivors of gender-motivated violence through March 1, 2025. 

The suit against Simmons is the latest from a wave of allegations in the music industry to surface after both California and New York passed legislation to waive the statutes of limitations on sexual abuse claims. Others who’ve faced suits include Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jimmy Iovine, Axl Rose and the former Recording Academy CEOs Neil Portnow and Mike Greene.

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