Five years after a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet containing anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent men in the media industry went viral, the author Stephen Elliott, who was named in the document, has settled his defamation lawsuit against the list’s originator, the journalist Moira Donegan.
The spreadsheet, which included 70 names and allegations ranging from unwelcome DMs to violence, was created anonymously by Donegan on Oct. 11, 2017, in the early days of the #MeToo movement. It was taken offline after about 12 hours, but it had already gone viral, leading to an article on BuzzFeed and reproductions on Reddit.
Elliott, a novelist and nonfiction writer, filed the defamation lawsuit a year after the spreadsheet had been created and shared. The defendants were Donegan and the document’s many still-anonymous “Jane Doe” contributors. Elliott had sought at least $1.5 million in damages, but the settlement was in the six figures.
By the time settlement discussions began in October, according to court records, a trial date had not been set, and none of the anonymous contributors had been identified in court. The legal battle’s duration was a factor in Elliott’s motivation for settling the case, he said.
“The lawsuit had gone 4.5 years and would have gone four more years, I think, before going to trial,” Elliott said in an emailed statement to reporters. “They were doing everything possible to avoid defending their views in court. So when they offered enough money, I agreed to settle.”
With the lawsuit concluded, Elliott feels that his name is cleared, but the settlement did not come with an apology. “I didn’t want an apology anyway because what’s the point if they don’t mean it?” he said.
Donegan, who is now a columnist for The Guardian’s U.S. edition, had support in her legal fight from early on. Her lawyers represented her pro bono, and a GoFundMe page for her fees and expenses raised more than $116,000.
Elliott, a founder and former editor of the online magazine The Rumpus, maintained that his “life is permanently changed as a result of being falsely accused of rape.” He claimed to have been fired by his agent and to have lost friends and connections in the literary world, not only because of the allegations against him but because he was pursuing legal action. Graywolf Press, which published a book of Elliott’s essays in late 2017, criticized the author in a Twitter post, writing that his lawsuit was “not consistent” with its values of “empathy, understanding and generosity of spirit.”