A district court denied Steve Wynn and his legal team a chance for a jury trial in a long-running defamation lawsuit involving the former casino mogul, his attorneys said in oral arguments to the Nevada Court of Appeals on Wednesday.
Wynn sued Jorgen Nielsen for defamation in 2018, after Nielsen alleged in a Wall Street Journal article that the casino developer sexually harassed female employees for decades. Nielsen had worked as artistic director of the salons at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.
Wynn’s defamation lawsuit says Nielsen’s claims that Wynn chased a manager around the salon until she locked herself in the bathroom couldn’t be true, because Wynn is legally blind. The lawsuit called Nielsen as a “disgruntled former employee” who “harbors a personal animus, dislike, and anger toward Mr. Wynn.”
Wynn resigned from his post as chairman and CEO shortly after the article was published in January 2018. He has maintained that the allegations against him are false. In July, Wynn agreed to pay a $10 million fine after reaching a settlement with the Nevada Gaming Commission over sexual harassment allegations, ending his career in gaming.
Nielsen previously moved to dismiss Wynn’s lawsuit through Nevada’s anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation statutes, also referred to as an anti-SLAPP motion, which is meant to prevent lawsuits from interfering with someone’s freedom of speech.
In September 2020, the Supreme Court reversed the District Court’s order to deny Nielsen’s motion, and remanded the case to that court. In January 2022, District Court determined that discovery wasn’t necessary and that Wynn’s legal team didn’t provide appropriate evidence supporting their claims that Nielsen made false and defamatory statements, granting Nielsen’s motion to dismiss.
Wynn’s attorneys argued Thursday in Carson City that the anti-SLAPP law was improperly applied and his right to a jury trial was violated. They argued that discovery and a jury could clarify or determine credibility to whether the allegations were made with actual malice.
“Examples can be cited of making accusations against Mr. Wynn,” Wynn’s attorney Todd Bice said. “Mr. Wynn can cite examples where he has been wrongly accused and prevailed. So, no, that’s why we have trials. That’s why the jury gets to hear all of the evidence and decide who’s telling the truth here.”
Nielsen’s lawyer, Joel Henriod, argued his communications were all truthful or made without knowing their falsehood, and that the anti-SLAPP protections could be eroded if the court supports Wynn’s arguments.
“If the Anti-SLAPP protection, respectfully, is watered down to that point, then really what you have is an evisceration of the purpose of the statute because billionaire bullies can still say you better not say a word,” Henriod said, “because if there is any color to the words you use, if there is the slightest inconsistency and I can show that you don’t like me, that is enough for me to tie this up for a years at a time.”
Court of Appeals justices are not expected to immediately issue an opinion.