Paula Abdul has sued former American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance producer Nigel Lythgoe and the show’s production companies, alleging that Lythgoe sexually assaulted her multiple times while she was a hosting the shows, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Friday.
In the suit reviewed by Rolling Stone, Abdul alleged that Lythgoe sexually assaulted her during one of American Idol’s initial seasons, then again years later in 2014 when she was hosting So You Think You Can Dance.
Lythgoe produced American Idol at the height of the show’s popularity in the early and mid-2000s and last produced the show in 2014, according to his IMDB page. He produced So You Think You Can Dance from 2005 to 2014. Aside from Lythgoe, the shows’ production companies American Idol Productions, Dance Nation Productions, 19 Entertainment and Fremantlemedia North America were all listed as defendants. The listed causes of action are sexual assault/battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, and negligence.
Representatives for Lythgoe and American Idol did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
Abdul alleged that before taking on the judge role on Idol, she met with several executives in 2001 about the show. During that meeting, Abdul alleged that Lythgoe “verbally insulted and belittled” her, calling her a “has been” who “probably wouldn’t be known by the show’s contestants.”
Despite her concerns that arose from that encounter, Abdul would end up joining the show by April of 2002. The suit alleges that she was discriminated and paid less than her fellow male judges, and that Lythgoe and the show’s production bullied her.
The suit didn’t give a specific year, but said that during one of the show’s “initial seasons” Lythgoe allegedly sexually assaulted in the elevator of a hotel room they were staying at while traveling for one of the show’s auditions.
“Lythgoe shoved Abdul against the wall, then grabbed her genitals and breasts, and began shoving his tongue down her throat,” the suit said. “Abdul attempted to push Lythgoe away from her. When the doors to the elevator for her door opened, Abdul ran out of the elevator and to her hotel room. Abdul quickly called one of her representatives in tears to inform them of the assault.”
Abdul chose not to speak up about the allegations over fear of retaliation from Lythgoe, who she said had the power to fire her from her judging posts. Years later in 2014, the suit alleged, Lythgoe sexually assaulted her again at his home after inviting her for a dinner. Abdul attended believing it to be a “professional invitation,” the suit said.
“Toward the end of the evening, Lythgoe forced himself on top of Abdul while she was seated on his couch and attempted to kiss her while proclaiming that the two would make an excellent ‘power couple,’” the suit claimed. “Abdul pushed Lythgoe off of her, explaining that she was not interested in his advances and immediately left.”
Again fearing retaliation, per the complaint, Abdul didn’t speak out about the claims. Aside from Lythgoe’s power, Abdul’s contracts on both shows specified that she was “prohibited from publicly disclosing sensitive information” regarding the shows and their business affairs, the suit claimed.
Abdul further alleged that she witnessed Lythgoe sexually assault one of her assistants named April while filming So You Think You Can Dance in 2015, claiming that Lythgoe “approached Abdul and April from behind pressed himself up against April and began to grope her. April did not consent.”
Abdul’s suit also alleged that Lythgoe teased her on the phone about his alleged behavior as well. “Lythgoe knew and was aware that his treatment of Abdul was inappropriate and even criminal,” the suit said. “Indeed at one point Lythgoe called Abdul and taunted her that they should celebrate because it had been ‘seven years and the statute of limitations had run.’ Lythgoe clearly knew that his assaults of Abdul were not just wrong but that he held the power to keep her silent.”
Abdul is among the highest profile people to file a sexual abuse suit since New York and California passed legislation to temporarily waive the statute of limitations on those claims. Those bills caused a wave of allegations to come forward against prominent figures in the music and entertainment industries including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Vin Diesel, Axl Rose and L.A. Reid.