World News

Crude, Yes, but Not Like Weinstein: French Man Sues MeToo Accuser

Posted January 18, 2018 4:26 p.m. EST

PARIS — The journalist who started France’s equivalent of the MeToo social media campaign against sexual harassment is being sued for defamation by the man she had accused of making salacious and disrespectful comments about her.

Sandra Muller, a French journalist working in New York, started the hashtag BalanceTonPorc, or ExposeYourPig, in October with a series of posts on Twitter that encouraged women to speak out against sexual harassment and that accused a former television executive of having made humiliating advances toward her.

The former executive, Eric Brion, has not denied the advances but argued that she was wrong to characterize them as sexual harassment.

Tens of thousands of women in France adopted Muller’s hashtag to recount their own experiences, spurring a debate on gender relations and sexual norms. Most recently, a letter signed by actress Catherine Deneuve and scores of other women to denounce the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements set off a strong backlash.

But unlike many of the women who took to social media with their stories, Muller named the man — Brion, a media consultant and former executive at the public broadcaster France Télévisions and the horse-racing channel Equidia.

“You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night,” she quoted him as having said, at what she later described as a social event during a television festival in Cannes, on the French Riviera.

Muller said in a statement published on Facebook on Wednesday that Brion was now suing her for defamation and was asking for 50,000 euros in damages (about $61,200), as well as 10,000 euros in legal fees (about $12,200) and the publication at her expense of the court’s ruling in media outlets.

“I will go to the end of this fight with the help of my lawyer and I hope that this trial will be an opportunity to have a real debate on ways of fighting against sexual harassment,” wrote Muller, who in December was included by Time magazine as one of the “silence breakers” it named person of the year for 2017.

A lawyer for Brion confirmed the suit, but declined to comment further. In an interview published in the newsweekly Le Point on Thursday, Brion said his life had been upended by the accusations.

He said that some media outlets incorrectly referred to him as a former boss of Muller, that he was targeted by demeaning social media posts, and that he lost multiple job opportunities.

“I am surrounded by good people, I was lucky enough to go abroad to take a step back, but are we thinking about the effect that this kind of outpouring can have on a fragile personality?” Brion said.

In his interview with Le Point, and in an op-ed published in December in Le Monde, Brion acknowledged he had made the crude comments.

“Nevertheless, what does my conduct have to do with the case of Harvey Weinstein, who is accused of rape and sexual assault by several women?” Brion wrote in Le Monde, stressing that the comments were made only once, under the influence of alcohol, that he did not work with Muller, and that he had apologized soon after.

But Alexis Guedj, Muller’s lawyer, said in a phone interview that his client worked in a field where a wide range of settings could be considered akin to a workplace, even though Brion was neither a colleague nor a superior of Muller.

“There has to be a debate on this issue: Is a professional relationship the same in all professions?” said Guedj, who argued that social events like cocktail parties could be considered in some fields, like the media, as professional settings because deals are struck and hiring decisions are made. He noted Muller’s publication had written about Equidia and Brion on several occasions.

The case is not expected to go to court for several months.