Britney Spears' Ex-Bodyguard Must Prove Ongoing Harassment, Expert Says
Attorney Michael Bononi explains that the burden is on Fernando Flores to prove his hostile work environment.
By Mawuse Ziegbe (@mawuseziegbe)
After mounting a successful comeback and maintaining a relatively low profile in the press for the past year, Britney Spears is now dealing with another bout of disturbing claims regarding her personal life.
On Wednesday, Spears' former bodyguard, Fernando Flores, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit alleging that the singer made multiple unwelcome passes at him, exposed herself on numerous occasions and engaged in sex in front of her two young sons. A post on Spears' site denied the allegations.
The accusations are harsh, however, according to a legal expert, it's up to Flores to provide the evidence.
"What he's gonna have to show in making these allegations is that he was subjected to a hostile work environment, and it's gonna have to be hostile in two ways: one, that a reasonable person similarly situated would have been offended by the conduct and secondly that he was actually offended by the conduct," Michael Bononi, a partner at Bononi Law Group in Los Angeles, told MTV News.
Bononi, who has worked for castmembers of "Desperate Housewives," is not involved in Spears' case, though has represented both sides in sexual harassment cases. He said juries typically look for material evidence, in the form of official complaints or concerns voiced to friends, that indicates wrongdoing on the defendant's part.
"What courts and what juries look [for] is: Did he act consistently with the way you would expect someone to act who was actually offended by this type of conduct? In other words, did he make complaints? Did he tell her to stop? Did he talk to his friends and colleagues?" Bononi said. "Is there corroboration that at the time this was happening it was actually bothering him, and are people going to come forward and be able to testify that at the time this stuff was transpiring, he was talking to them about it, talking about how offended if, at all, he was?"
The suit states that Flores reported an incident in which Spears called him up to her room "for no other purpose or reason than to expose her naked or near naked body to Plaintiff." According to the suit, Flores' supervisor, Josh McMahan, shrugged off the incident, saying, "You know you liked it." Flores also apparently voiced his issues several times, but "his complaints were ignored or mocked, and no action was taken to rectify the situation."
Bononi described California's sexual harassment laws as "employee-friendly," noting that there is no cap on punitive damages. However, the onus is still on Flores to demonstrate the extent to which his experience with Spears affected him.
"That's the big hurdle that he's gonna have to get over: How offensive was this to him?" he said. "From what I've read ... if it's that she's walked around him nude a few times and similar things, I haven't read anything where she's demanding sex or anything along those lines."
Bononi also noted that as member of a superstar's security detail, Flores was likely prepped for challenging and intense situations. "As far as the salacious nature of these allegations, he's a bodyguard ... how offended was he if the conduct that he's talking about is truthful. How injured is he? It's hard to believe that he's scarred from seeing her in her room a few times."
Bononi mentioned that Spears' celebrity may work against her if she has actually crossed any boundaries. The high-profile nature of the case would likely spur others to come forward if the singer has a history of inappropriate behavior with her employees.
"The celebrity status, where it can really have an impact on these cases, is if she has engaged in similar sort of conduct with other people in the past, this provides ... an avenue for them to come forward and say, 'Look what happened to me,' " Bononi said. "The celebrity status really does encourage people to come forward that have seen some of this or have experienced similar sort of stuff in the past from Britney if she has in fact done it."
While Spears' past troubles may inform public opinion, Bononi said her previous personal issues or the fact that she makes a living touring the world, touting an ultra-sexy image, shouldn't factor into the sexual harassment case.
"There's nothing in her past that I'm aware of that has anything to do with sexual harassment of employees," Bononi said. "It should not be held against her. It makes her an easy target for these types of allegations."