A lawsuit filed Tuesday against Austin Chronicle co-founder and former editor Louis Black accuses him of “us[ing] his power and influence to coerce [the plaintiff] into a state of sexual servitude under the guise of mentorship.”
The suit also names the Chronicle as a defendant, claiming Black used the newspaper’s clout to coerce Ariel Cassone, and company funds to pay her. The suit argues the Chronicle participated in trafficking because it was either “aware or willfully ignorant of the fact that it benefited from Cassone’s forced labor.”
Cassone is seeking damages for assault; intentional infliction of emotional distress; breach of contract; forced labor in violation of Texas law; and violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
In a statement provided to this reporter, Chronicle owner and publisher Nick Barbaro said, “To the best of our knowledge, this person has never been paid by the Chronicle, nor done any work for the Chronicle or at the Chronicle office.” (See full statement below.)
Black had not responded to the Chronicle’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Black co-founded the paper with Barbaro and others in 1981, serving as its editor until April 2016. He retired from the Chronicle in August 2017 and Barbaro is now the sole owner of The Austin Chronicle. (Black also co-founded SXSW in 1987 with Barbaro, Roland Swenson, and Louis Jay Meyers.)
Cassone says she started working full-time for Black in March 2016, 18 months before his Chronicle retirement. According to the lawsuit, Cassone spent several years working for him, which included editing Black’s writing, “brainstorming ideas with him for reviving the Chronicle,” and writing commissioned scripts, novels, and short stories. She also worked as a personal assistant whose duties included grocery shopping, running errands, and house cleaning, she says. According to the lawsuit, Cassone agreed to work for Black in hopes of his mentorship and “because of his significant experience and influence in the entertainment industry. He promised to use this influence to launch Ms. Cassone’s career.”
The suit alleges that as early as 2008, before their working relationship, Black kissed Cassone without her consent. But it was September 2017, while she was allegedly under his employ, when he first forced oral sex on her, the suit claims, saying what followed was “a staggering number of instances of sexual assault,” which went on for at least five years. She says the abuse continued because she depended on Black financially, and he at times withheld her salary until she provided him sexual favors.
“For years, Ms. Cassone’s salary, and the expenditures of its editor and co-founder, Mr. Black, were funded by The Austin Chronicle,” the suit claims. “Ms. Cassone’s salary was frequently paid to her from The Austin Chronicle’s account – both before and after Mr. Black retired as editor of the Chronicle.”
The suit also states that “Ms. Cassone frequently worked at The Austin Chronicle office in Austin, Texas, and she was acquainted with many of its executives and staff.”
Barbaro provided the following statement:
“The Austin Chronicle Corporation was recently notified that it has been named as a co-defendant in a lawsuit against its co-founder and former editor, Louis Black, who retired from the Chronicle in 2017 and has had no legal or financial connection to the paper since that time.
“The person bringing the lawsuit is not now, and has never been, an employee of the Austin Chronicle. To the best of our knowledge, this person has never been paid by the Chronicle, nor done any work for the Chronicle or at the Chronicle office, and we had no knowledge of the actions or events alleged in this suit prior to receiving this complaint.
“Mr. Black has been widely recognized for his contributions as a longtime creative force in the Austin community and beyond. However, these are serious allegations and the Chronicle trusts the legal process to determine their veracity.
“Because this is an ongoing lawsuit, neither I nor the Austin Chronicle Corporation will have any further statement on the case.”
A note from Editor Kimberley Jones: Given the seriousness of the allegations in this lawsuit, we felt it was important to our readers to be transparent about the situation as we understand it and to report this story as objectively as we can. No one on our four-person news team was on staff when Louis Black retired in 2017, and Publisher Nick Barbaro, the paper’s sole owner since Black’s departure, has not attempted to influence our reporting. Still, as a co-defendant in the suit, we recognize it complicates our ability to report this story.
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