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Liza Minnelli sex lawsuit is settled out of court

Chauffeur drops claim that singer beat him and coerced him into se

Guy Adams
Friday 11 December 2009 01:00 GMT
(Rex Features)

It could have been her most compelling performance in years – but Liza Minnelli has cancelled the show. It has emerged that the 63-year-old singer has unexpectedly settled a long-running and expensive legal battle against her former driver, just days before she was due to appear in a New York court to face accusations that she'd beaten him while drunk and forced him into sex.

Ms Minnelli struck a deal with M'Hammed Soumayah, who was her chauffeur for over a decade before being fired in 2004, to drop a lawsuit in which he sought a total of $100m [£62.5m] for assault and battery, breach of contract, personal injury, and multiple counts of sexual harassment. The terms of the deal are confidential, said presiding judge Paul Feinman, adding that "the entire action has been settled and discontinued". The deal was reached on 13 November, four days before Ms Minnelli would have been required to give evidence under oath.

Though extravagant celebrity lawsuits are hardly rare in the upper echelons of the American entertainment industry, Mr Soumayah's case was outstanding for both the extraordinarily colourful nature of its contents, and the fact that, despite fighting for five years, Ms Minnelli had never been able to get it dismissed.

In his original 40-page complaint, filed at Manhattan Supreme Court in November 2004, Mr Soumayah, a married father-of-two, had portrayed Ms Minnelli as a violent sexual predator who had attacked him while drunk and made repeated efforts to compel him to engage in sex.

"In the event the plaintiff resisted or protested, Minnelli would threaten him with termination (of his job)," the suit said, adding that Mr Soumayah had "physical evidence" of their sexual relationship, in which he had eventually become a willing party. It allegedly occurred while the singer was married to her fourth husband David Gest. Mr Soumayah said he was sacked in June 2004, after refusing to take a 50 per cent pay cut. His salary had previously been $238,000 [£149,000], for which he also acted as the singer's personal assistant.

Two months later, after Ms Minnelli heard that he planned to sue, she called him to her Manhattan apartment. Inviting him in, the singer said he was "the love of her life" and tried to kiss him. Mr Soumayah says he rejected her advances, at which point he says Ms Minnelli lost her temper. She spat at him, punched him in the face, and accused him of betraying her, his lawsuit claimed.

After it was filed, the performer's lawyers came out fighting, accusing Mr Soumayah of a "shakedown" and saying his case was built on a "quicksand of untruths and misstatements." They also launched a £250,000 counter-suit, accusing him of breaching a confidentiality agreement.

That was almost five years ago. In the intervening period, Ms Minnelli repeatedly tried to have the case thrown out and on several occasions attempted to avoid having to give evidence or go to court. In 2005, a five-judge panel of the state Appellate Division denied her request for Mr Soumayah to be gagged, saying he had a right for his case to be heard.

Part of the reason it has taken so long to the lawsuit to reach an advanced stage is that for a large portion of recent years, the Oscar-winning star has been involved in a bitter divorce from Mr Gest.

That case was settled confidentially in 2007.

When Mr Soumayah's claims about Ms Minnelli first became public, Mr Gest heightened already intense media interest by issuing a press statement saying: "I am not surprised at the news, as I witnessed Mr Soumayah being beaten by Ms Minnelli on many, many occasions."

Asked about the settlement, Mr Soumayah's lawyer, Harvey Mars, declined to comment yesterday, except to say, "The matter is resolved."

Israel Rubin, one of Ms Minnelli's lawyers, also refused to comment, citing the confidentiality agreement.

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