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Defamation Claim by Partner Accused of Sex Harassment Is Dismissed

Samuel Isaly was the founder and managing partner of OrbiMed Advisors, LLC. Isaly is a quadriplegic with limited use of his extremities and is confined to a wheelchair. Boston Globe Media Partners (Globe) published an online article about Isaly containing allegations that he sexually harassed some of his female employees. The Globe interviewed five former employees for the article; they stated that Isaly “perpetuated a toxic culture of sexual harassment…routinely subjecting young female assistants to pornography in the workplace, lewd jokes, and pervasive sexist comments.” They also reported that Isaly kept a set of breast implants on his desk that he would squeeze like “stress balls” during conversations with employees. Isaly denied all of the allegations before the article was published. He then sued the Globe for defamation in a New York federal court.

Seeking to dismiss the defamation claim, Isaly asserted that his impairments made it impossible for him to commit the acts alleged in the article. To prevail, Isaly needed to establish that the Globe “acted in a grossly irresponsible manner.” Isaly failed to persuade the federal district court. The evidence showed that Isaly had assistants able to perform routine tasks for him, which could include displaying pornography on his computer. His disability did not inhibit his ability to make inappropriate comments, the court pointed out. Isaly admitted that he kept the implants on his desk. Based on the foregoing information, the Globe had not reported its story irresponsibly. His defamation claim was dismissed.