SAN FRANCISCO — A public affairs firm sued by Virgin Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss the defamation suit, saying it was nothing more than a "cynical ploy" to discourage women and the press from reporting on his alleged sexual misconduct.
Definers Public Affairs filed an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) action against Pishevar in San Francisco Superior Court in a special motion that seeks to throw out Pishevar's suit as meritless on the grounds that the Washington, D.C.-based research firm has no evidence of any interactions with Pishevar.
Pishevar, who made his fortune thanks to early investments in Uber and Airbnb, on Tuesday became the latest businessman to leave a position of influence after women accused him of sexual harassment. Late last week, Bloomberg reported that he made unwanted sexual advances to Uber employee Austin Geidt and five other women in professional settings.
The report named none of the women, instead citing witnesses, messages and the accounts of alleged victims who said they were groped, kissed or pressured for sex. Bloomberg reported that the women changed their minds about using their names after Pishevar filed suit against Definers in November.
Pishevar, who has denied those claims of harassment and said through a spokesman that instead he is victim of a "smear campaign" from an unnamed party, on Tuesday said he would step away from board responsibilities at Virgin Hyperloop One, his investment firm Sherpa Capital, and a new venture with Silicon Valley Bank called Silicon Foundry.
He said that he did so to "pursue the prosecution of my lawsuit, where I am confident I will be vindicated."
The lawsuit he referred to, and that Definers is seeking to dismiss, followed an incident in May, when a woman told London police she had been raped by Pishevar at a hotel there. Pishevar was briefly arrested.
A month later, Pishevar got a court injunction that prevented British media outlets from naming him, although that ruling did not apply to U.S. media. According to a recent Forbes report, London police officials closed the case in July due to insufficient evidence. A police report cited by some media that contained details about the incident was deemed to be a forgery.
In November, Pishevar sued Definers, claiming it was behind false and disparaging statements including that he settled the London incident with his accuser.
Definers has called Pishever's claims "delusional and entirely without merit," and said the firm had found no emails or documents reflecting any engagements, communications or work related to the investor.
"Since his baseless lawsuit was filed there have been reports that it kept women from speaking out about his interactions with them, which demonstrates the shameful purpose of his action," said Definers partner Tim Miller in an emailed statement to USA TODAY Wednesday.
Pishevar's spokesperson, crisis communications expert Mark Fabiani, said he had no immediate comment.
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