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Chris Avellone files libel suit over last year's sexual misconduct allegations

Chris Avellone
(Image credit: Luna Cruz (via Wikipedia))

Just over a year after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, game writer Chris Avellone has published a blog post in which he denies the claims which led to multiple studios cutting ties with him. He has also filed a lawsuit against two accusers, plus as many as 100 unnamed people who he claims are "responsible in some manner" for defamation.

Avellone's lawsuit specifically alleges that two women, Karissa Barrows and Kelly Bristol, made libellous statements about him last year. After seeing an IGN interview with Avellone in June 2020, Barrows alleged on Twitter that the writer had a history of "preying on young women" at conventions by "getting them drunk." In her case, she said that he purchased alcohol to get her "blackout drunk" at a bar before escorting her to her hotel room, where they made out in the hallway. (Both parties agree that, at her request, things didn't go further than that.) 

Barrows went on to say that Avellone was a "sexual predator" and that he "assaulted and abused" her friends. Bristol, a friend of Barrows, alleged that Avellone groped and propositioned her, which Barrows said she hadn't known about.

Avellone expressed surprise at some of the comments from Barrows, but said very little publicly about the allegations in 2020. He has now rejected each claim, calling the statements "entirely false" and saying that he has never "targeted any person for the purpose of engaging in non-consensual sexual contact" and that he did not assault Bristol.

Barrows stands by her allegations. "The only statement I will make at this time is that I stand by my story," Barrows told PC Gamer when reached for comment this week. "I told the truth. I am not at liberty to speak further until legal proceedings have concluded." 

Along with the lawsuit, Avellone published a blog post titled "It's Come To This", in which he claims that Barrows became antagonistic toward him when his relationship with a friend of hers soured. In 2020, Barrows claimed that her best friend "endured over a year of heartache, gaslighting, and emotional abuse at [Avellone's] hands." Avellone says that the friend in question did become "unhappy," but that they had not been in a committed relationship. (The friend is only identified in the post as someone named Jackie. She is not identified in the lawsuit, either.)

Avellone also denies, preemptively, that he's using the legal system to silence accusers, saying that he wants Barrows and others to "speak more about what happened."

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Lawyer D.M. Schmeyer, who is not involved in the suit but characterized it as "revenge" and "bullying" in a widely shared Twitter thread, said that suits like Avellone's are used to silence defendants, in that they are expensive and difficult to respond to. Schmeyer also criticized the strategy of the lawsuit, saying that Avellone's lawyers made a mistake by filing in California (because it favors the defendants in cases like this more than other states) and that the suit's claims lack legal merit. For example, Schmeyer says that referring to someone as a "predator" is a statement of opinion rather than fact in the context of a libel suit, and so "isn't actionable." He also questions whether Avellone can prove that the accusers acted maliciously, the sense behind including the 100 "Does," and other specifics. Schmeyer concludes that the suit is, in his opinion, about silencing the accusers.

Avellone disagrees. Reached for comment, he told PC Gamer that he feels Barrows and Bristol "have had time to be heard" over the past year since the allegations were made, and therefore aren't being "silenced." In addition, "other voices involved in the stories" will now be heard, he said, and he believes the inquiry will reveal "serious misstatements and contradictions." He also said that the nature of the 100 "Doe" defendants will become clear in court.

In one tweet Avellone takes issue with, Schmeyer seems to mock the inclusion of "hurt feelings" in the suit as one of the damages suffered, writing, "Your feelings are hurt? You just literally plead hurt feelings. Dude."

"The lawyer in the thread is biased, unfortunately," wrote Avellone. "I respect his right to be heard, but while mocking one for pleading 'hurt feelings,' he should already be aware that's standard wording for libel suits in California and includes a range of emotional distress, including suicidal thoughts."

Indeed, while California does not specify what sort of thoughts might be described by "hurt feelings," it does include the term as one of the "general damages" relevant in libel cases alongside "loss of reputation," "shame," and "mortification."

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Schmeyer declined to add anything specific to that remark, but did respond to the claim that he is biased. "I don’t know Chris Avellone personally, nor do I know any parties to this lawsuit," wrote the lawyer in an email to PC Gamer. "I've played his games, and enjoyed them, but that's the extent of it. Being a lawyer, I found the legal issues surrounding his complaint to be of interest, and I commented.

Aside from the claim that he isn't trying to silence the defendants, Avellone says in his blog post that he waited until now to fight the allegations because he "understood cancel culture," and felt that the companies which cut ties with him could not show hesitation without being judged.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles on June 16, seeks damages for lost work and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages, the costs of the suit, and a positive injunction, which means the court would define some action to be taken by defendants Barrows and Bristol as a remedy. 

The next development will depend on the response from the defendants, which should happen fairly soon, as the default deadline is 30 days from being served.

Given the statement from Barrows that she stands by what she said, it seems obvious that she is challenging the suit. One option, which Schmeyer explains in his thread, is for the defendants to file a motion to strike the complaint on the basis that it lacks merit, which could succeed if the court agrees with Schmeyer's opinion.