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Kobalt Hit With Lawsuit Over Accusations That Former Exec Sam Taylor Abused Power for Sex

today10/25/2023

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A female songwriter is suing Kobalt Music Group and former company executive Sam Taylor over allegations that he leveraged his position of power to demand sex from her – and that the company “ignored” and “gaslit” women who complained about him.

In a complaint filed Monday in Los Angeles court, lawyers for Nataliya Nikitenko say that Taylor exploited his control over her career to repeatedly pressured her to have sex with him — an allegation legally termed “quid pro quo sexual harassment.” After initially rebuffing him, she claims she eventually gave in and was “forced to engage in unwanted sexual intercourse.”

“Taylor’s actions were sexually predatorial, as defendant Taylor held a position of power over plaintiff,” Nikitenko’s lawyers write. “In fear of her physical safety and with the knowledge that defendant Taylor would withhold work opportunities, defame plaintiff, and ruin plaintiff’s reputation if plaintiff displeased defendant Taylor … plaintiff reluctantly submitted to defendant Taylor’s sexual advances.”

The lawsuit was filed by an unnamed woman identified only as Jane Doe, a common procedural step in cases where plaintiffs fear retaliation. But the allegations closely mirror public accusations from Nikitenko reported by Billboard last year, and the language of the lawsuit directly confirms Jane Doe is Nikitenko.

In addition to the accusations against Taylor, Nikitenko is also suing Kobalt and company executives Sas Metcalfe, Sue Drew and Lauren Hubert. The songwriter’s lawyers claim that Kobalt and the executives were aware of allegations of impropriety against Taylor, but “silenced” women who made them.

“Kobalt [and its executives] consistently ignored the complaints against [Taylor] throughout his entire employment further empowering him and encouraging to continue his scheme of threatening individuals, sexually assaulting them, sexually battering them, and leveraging his power and ability to advance their careers,” Nikitenko’s lawyers write. They say the company “valued profits over the safety of not only their employees but the artists, musicians, and singers they contracted with.”

Taylor did not return an emailed request for comment on the lawsuit’s allegations; a lawyer who represented him in relation to Nikitenko’s claims to Billboard last year also did not reply. But in the story last year, Taylor’s lawyer said the relationship had been “completely consensual at all times.”

“It is a shame that his efforts to genuinely help her career, unrelated to any relationship, are being turned on him in this manner,” Taylor’s lawyer told Billboard at the time. “We assume that she’s doing this with full knowledge of the complete lack of linkage between his efforts on her behalf and any relationship. That relationship has long since ceased.”

Kobalt, in a statement to Billboard on Wednesday, called the lawsuit’s allegations against the company and its employees “baseless.”

“The complaint contains materially false allegations, and we believe that the plaintiff knows them to be false,” the company spokesman said. “Kobalt has always had a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any sort, and neither Kobalt nor its executives condoned or aided any alleged wrongdoing by any Kobalt employee, including Sam Taylor. Kobalt will vigorously defend this case and pursue all of its available remedies.”

In her lawsuit, Nikitenko says she signed a publishing administration deal with Kobalt in May 2015, when she was 20 years old. She says she first met Taylor, then 39, at a “writers hang” in February 2016, when he “pulled plaintiff aside and asked for her cell phone number.”

Over the next year, she claims that Taylor (her “point person” within Kobalt) began to sexually harass her via text and in person, including repeatedly “flirting” with her and making inappropriate comments in front of others at Kobalt.

In one alleged incident, Nikitenko claims that she was in a “a very small recording booth” at the Kobalt offices when Taylor entered, shut the door and told her “show me your boobs.” She claims he then “touched, groped, and grabbed” her breasts, leaving her “shocked” and “embarrassed.”

“The fact that defendant Taylor did this in the middle of the office only further illustrated that defendant Taylor was given the latitude and power to do whatever he wanted without and care or concern,” her lawyers write in the lawsuit.

Nikitenko says that as the harassment from Taylor continued to escalate, she eventually succumbed and agreed to go on a date with him because she feared retaliation. When she asked where they should meet, Taylor allegedly responded “your house.” She says she then rebuffed him and they instead met at a Santa Monica restaurant, but that he “insisted and pressured” her to let him take her home.

“Due to plaintiff’s well-founded fear for her career and the power dynamic that defendant Taylor had over her career, plaintiff was forced to engage in unwanted sexual intercourse with defendant Taylor,” Nikitenko’s lawyer wrote. “As soon as defendant Taylor orgasmed, defendant Taylor quickly got dressed and left.”

Over the following two years, Nikitenko claims that Taylor repeatedly leveraged his position to coerce her into more sex, often alternating between sexually-charged texts — including “unwanted nude pictures” — with discussions of career advancement. In several texts quoted in the complaint, Taylor allegedly told her “you owe me.”

“Throughout plaintiff’s contract and business relationship, defendant Taylor required plaintiff to pay defendant Taylor with sexual favors for career opportunities defendant Taylor promised,” her lawyers write. “Defendant Taylor would often say that defendant Taylor needed a ‘fee’ after helping plaintiff. This ‘fee’ referred to sexual favors.”

After he allegedly became “frustrated” with her, the lawsuit claims that Taylor spread a false rumor that Nikitenko, who is white, had “made a racist comment” during a recording session with music producer J. White, who is Black. She claims the false rumor was a form of retaliation, and that it has “prevented plaintiff from working with many other producers and labels.”

According to the lawsuit, Taylor was “terminated” from Kobalt in October 2019; a Kobalt spokesman declined to comment when asked for the exact cause for his exit from the company.

Notably, Nikitenko’s lawsuit says she did not report Taylor’s behavior to anyone at Kobalt until July 2020, well after he had already been terminated. But she says the company and its executives were previously aware of his “history of inappropriate sexual behavior,” and that several other Kobalt employees had complained to HR about him.

“No corrective action was taken by defendant Kobalt which allowed for and encouraged defendant Taylor to continue to sexually harass, threaten, and retaliate against others, including but not limited to, plaintiff,” her lawyers write.

In March 2022, Nikitenko says she attempted to terminate her agreement with Kobalt, citing her alleged mistreatment by Taylor. She claims that the company offered to let her walk away, but only if she repaid her unrecouped balance and signed some form of non-disclosure agreement — an offer she says she refused.

In the time since she went public with her allegations last year, Nikitenko says that Kobalt has “retaliated” against her by “not placing plaintiff in sessions or introducing Plaintiff to other artists to work” and ignoring her direct requests for work.

Taylor joined Republic Records in October 2020, and was promoted to the head of the label’s hip-hop and R&B A&R department in December 2021. It’s unclear if he is currently still employed by Republic, and a label spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on Taylor’s status. Republic, a unit of Universal Music Group, is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit or accused of any wrongdoing.

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