’13 Reasons Why’ Author Files Defamation Lawsuit Against Writers’ Group After Misconduct Accusation

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators expelled Jay Asher in February 2018

Last Updated: January 25, 2019 @ 5:13 PM

“13 Reasons Why” author Jay Asher has filed a lawsuit against the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the writers’ group’s executive director, Lin Oliver, for making what he says are false and defamatory statements about him that have damaged his reputation and career, after he was accused of sexual misconduct last year.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court last week and obtained by TheWrap, Oliver issued a statement to the Associated Press last February that said the organization conducted an “investigation” and that Asher was “found to have violated the SCBWI code of conduct in regard to harassment.” The suit says those statements were false and Asher is seeking monetary damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

But according to Asher’s suit, the SCBWI did not conduct an investigation, and the author did not violate the SCBWI code of conduct.

“The executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators made reckless and false statements about me to the news media, greatly harming my family, career, and reputation,” Asher said in a statement to TheWrap Friday. “I do not condone harassment of any sort, and have spent my entire career standing up for its victims, so these statements were devastating. Today, I filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles to set the record straight. Ms. Oliver’s statements were completely false and I look forward to proving that in court.”

“SCBWI failed to conduct an investigation of any kind, and intentionally ignored evidence that would have shown Mr. Asher was completely innocent,” Patrick L. Fisher, Asher’s attorney, said in a statement. “Instead, SCBWI recklessly issued a false statement – in the heat of the ‘Me-Too’ movement – that unfairly damaged the reputation and career of one of the country’s most successful young adult authors. We look forward to presenting these facts to a jury.”

A representative for Oliver and SCBWI said in a statement to TheWrap: “Jay Asher’s lawsuit appears to be an attempt by Asher to repair his name and reputation after it became public that his private actions were inconsistent with his public persona of being an advocate and ally of women. SCBWI received an email anonymously signed by seven of our female members stating that they had all had affairs with Jay Asher and several felt threatened and intimidated into silence by him. Asher confirmed that he had engaged in sexual relationships with multiple fellow SCBWI members. As a result, Asher and SCBWI agreed that he would no longer be on faculty at, present at, or attend, any future SCBWI events. We believe the lawsuit is entirely without merit and it will be vigorously defended.”

According to Asher’s lawsuit, Oliver received anonymous emails in April 2017 accusing Asher of using SCBWI conferences to entice women into physical relationships and then threatening them to remain silent. The suit says these accusations were false and that these relationships were voluntary — and sometimes started by the women. The suit asserts there was no harassment by Asher at any point in these relationships and that he did not offer to help any of them professionally.

Oliver discussed the accusations with Asher, according to the lawsuit, telling him she thought they were an attempt to ruin his reputation just as Netflix debuted its adaptation of his YA novel. Oliver took no action regarding the emails for over nine months after that and Asher voluntarily stopped attending SCBWI events, though he did renew his membership when it expired at Oliver’s suggestion, according to the court documents.

According to the suit, two women later contacted Oliver who said they were involved in the anonymous emails. One woman said she knew firsthand the accusations were false and the second woman contradicted the emails, but Oliver didn’t question them further, the filing states.

Asher showed Oliver proof that the author of the email had been harassing him for over a decade and offered to put her in touch with someone who could support his story, but Oliver took no action, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that Oliver then released the statement in February of last year, saying the organization had conducted an “investigation” and that Asher was “found to have violated the SCBWI code of conduct in regard to harassment.”

According to the suit, this caused Asher to suffer “injury to his personal, business, and professional reputation including suffering embarrassment, humiliation, severe emotional distress, shunning, anguish, fear, loss of employment.”