Secretary Sues, Claims Sexual Harassment by Record Executive

Los Angeles Times
November 15, 1991

In a move likely to heighten controversy over sexual conduct in the recording industry, a secretary on Thursday filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit again Geffen Records and its parent corporations, claiming they had tolerated "outrageous, sexually deviant behavior" by a top executive for years.

Suing the companies for assault, battery and sexual harassment, former Geffen secretary Penny Muck, 28, claimed that Marko Babineau, former general manager of Geffen's DGC label, had repeatedly harassed her this year, going so far as to masturbate at her desk and physically block her escape.

She also charged that Geffen executives had overlooked a long history of complaints against Babineau by other women staff.

"I feel very uncomfortable being in the public eye with my story," Muck said, reading from a prepared statement on the steps of the County Courthouse in Santa Monica. "I feel degraded, humiliated, and frightened . . . . But I hope that [by speaking out] other women will have the strength to come forward ."

Babineau, 40, resigned on Sept. 4. According to a Geffen statement issued at the time, Babineau left to spend more time with his family. Several sources close to Geffen told The Times that when Babineau resigned, the company not only bought out his contract by also gave him a bonus. Geffen has declined to comment on whether any financial settlement had been reached.

Deborah Koeffler, an attorney representing Geffen, declined comment Thursday, saying she had not yet seen the lawsuit. Her firm - Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp - has itself been the target of charges of sexual harassment by the former head of its music department, Abe Somer, who reached settlements with two former women employees late last year.

Babineau's purported misconduct was reported in The Time on Nov. 3 in an article disclosing that charges of sexual harassment had been lodged against several top recording industry executives. In the article, Geffen sources said several previous Babineau assistants had lodged similar internal complaints about Babineau dating back to 1984.

The disclosures have prompted an industrywide debate and closed-door boardroom discussions on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the music business and how to deal with it. The issue, said Roy Trakin, senior editor of the music industry trade publication HITS, is "out of the closet."

Babineau, who worked at Geffen for nearly eight years, has not responded to numerous inquiries by the Times. Geffen spokesmen, in response to questions about Babineau, have said only that the company has a strong policy against sexual harassment.

No comment was forthcoming from Geffen's parent corporations, which are defendants in Muck's lawsuit. Christine Hanson, head of corporate communications and public affairs at MCA, Inc., which has owned the David Geffen Co. since February, 1990, called the lawsuit a "Geffen matter." Officials at Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., the Osaka-based Japanese conglomerate that acquired MCA Inc. In January, could not be reached for comment.

"I believe their silence speaks loudly about corporate greed," said Muck's attorney, Benjamin Schonbrun. "The message is clear, Business as usual. As long as you contribute to the wealth of the corporation, the people at the top will look the other way . . . ."

Schonbrun said he had the names of "many" women who had allegedly been harassed by Babineau. Several of those who had previously complained were transferred to another department while Babineau, a highly successful promotion executive, was promoted, he said. He suggested that Geffen should have offered counseling to Babineau.

According to Muck's lawsuit, the alleged harassment by Babineau began in February when he began grabbing her without warning in the office and suggested that she and another woman staffer perform sexual acts for his "prurient pleasure."

In July, the lawsuit alleged, Babineau approached her desk to show her a magazine article. When she turned, according to the suit, he ejaculated "inches" away from Plaintiff's person." Three weeks after she complained about his behavior to the personnel director, he masturbated again in front of her and ordered Muck to clean up after him, according to the suit.

Asked how Muck could tolerate more than one such incident, Schonbrun said his client filed sexual harassment complaints with both state and federal authorities within two months of the first alleged masturbation incident. He also charged that Babineau made clear to her that any complaints would jeopardize her career, not only at Geffen, but in the industry.