Olympian, musician, and entrepreneur Shaun White has found himself in hot water. Former bandmate Lena Zawaideh has filed a lawsuit against him, alleging sexual harassment as well as wage claims. She states he did not pay her for some of her work. The legal matter was initiated in May 2016, but was not filed in court until recently.
Zawaideh was fired from the band Bad Things (which she helped form with White in 2008) after the end of their 2014 tour. She claims that throughout her duration working with the band, she was subjected to sexual harassment by White, being forced to endure various explicit pornographic images, listen to White’s vulgar language, and have to wear provocative outfits. Zawaideh states she would receive text messages from White including images of “engorged and erect penises”, as well as being forced to watch “disturbing” pornographic videos, some of which sexualized human fecal matter. Another showed a couple killing a bear, then having intercourse on top of it. The court complaint also details scenarios ranging from White sticking his behind in Zawaideh’s face, to him grabbing her behind or trying to kiss her.
Screen captures of text messages between the two exhibit a very different side of the all-American “Flying Tomato”. Some conversations reveal White angrily admonishing Zawaideh for wearing a fleece sweater to a band photo shoot, (not provocative enough for his taste, presumably) saying he was “really disappointed” and if she were to do it again, she would be asked to go home. Another exchange shows White asking (or rather, telling) Zawaideh to cut her hair the following day “at shoulder length or above”, and that it’s “really important to [him]”. She then responds by declining to comply with this request, explaining that she is “very confident and happy with her long hair”, which elicits angry responses from White. Allegedly, the following day White went out of his way to avoid and ignore Zawaideh. This incident led to her unwilling separation from the group. Zawaideh did not hear from White or other management initially, but much later received word from the new band manager that the band had “decided to part ways with her”. Other band members called Zawaideh afterwards to let her know that they weren’t present at the time of the call as the manager claimed, nor did they have any part in her termination.
The accusations don’t stop at sexual harassment – Zawaideh is also seeking compensation for wages that she claims White stopped paying her. She alleges that she is owed about $42,000, as White stopped paying band members their contracted amount in January 2014 to “cut costs”. However, other band members’ payments were temporarily reinstated. Zawaideh’s payments were not, because as White told the other band members he believed she “did not need the money”. Additionally, Zawaideh is pursuing claims that she was misclassified as an independent contractor, and therefore is owed additional overtime pay.
In response to the allegations, White has issued a statement through his attorney, saying “Many years ago, I exchanged texts with a friend who is now using them to craft a bogus lawsuit….There is absolutely no coincidence to the timing of her claims, and we will defend them vigorously in court.” What he is referring to regarding the “timing of her claims” remains to be explained.
Zawaideh issued her own statement on the matter, saying, “I am pursuing this case because women should not have to tolerate harassment at work. Shaun White should not be allowed to do whatever he wants just because he is famous. Although I am embarrassed to have been treated this way, I cannot sit by and watch him do this to other women”.
Sexual harassment cases are seemingly on the rise in the entertainment industry, from the alleged victims of Bill Cosby coming forward to the multiple Fox News anchors alleging sexual harassment. Perhaps the occurrences of sexual harassment are not rising, but more people are willing to come forward about their experiences and fight for their rights.