WASHINGTON — Attorneys for First Lady Melania Trump said in a lawsuit filed Monday that a news article falsely accusing her of once working for an escort service has caused her current brands to lose “significant value” and has essentially prevented her from pursuing other commercial brand opportunities, including everything from apparel to shoes and cosmetics.
The lawsuit was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Manhattan against Mail Media Inc., the owner of the Daily Mail and Mail Online, which published an article about the First Lady online in late August that was later retracted.
According to the suit, Mail Online’s article stated that Trump’s “well-publicized professional modeling career in the 1990s was a ruse, and that she instead worked as an ‘elite escort’ in the ‘sex business’ among other completely false and highly defamatory statements.”
Trump’s attorney argued the news report was libelous and defamatory and also had negative economic implications for the first lady’s current brand and future opportunities.
“Plaintiff [Melania Trump] had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multimillion dollar business relationships for a multiyear term during which [she] is one of the most photographed women in the world,” the lawsuit stated. “These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.”
However, as a result of the “defamatory” statements made in the Mail Online article, Trump’s brand suffered a hit financially and “major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her have been lost and/or substantially impacted,” the lawsuit charged.
The economic hit to Trump’s brand and licensing, marketing and endorsements is estimated to be in the “multiple millions of dollars,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit raised concern among watchdog groups and some former government officials who voiced concern in several news reports about Trump appearing to try to profit from her public office as First Lady.
In the court documents, Trump’s lawyers argued that the First Lady is seeking redress for the “commercial harm done to her, her commercial brand and her business opportunities as the result of several false, salacious and highly offensive statements about her published by Mail Online on August 19, 2016.”
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of at least $150 million.
Trump’s lawyers argued that she did “legitimate and legal commercial and fashion modeling work for legitimate business entities and did not work for any ‘gentleman’s club’ or ‘escort’ agencies or any other persons or entities in the ‘sex business.’”
It further stated that Trump started her career as a professional model for several years and “evolved her career into developing and marketing her own lines of commercial products, including recent product deals for jewelry, accessories and skin-care products, under her brand ‘Melania’ and through her own companies.”
According to the lawsuit, Mail Online “deliberately” ran the article “knowing that the claims…were defamatory and knowing that they were likely false and based on completely unreliable sources.”
It also charged that Mail Online published the article with “reckless disregard for the truth,” and made a “conscious choice” not to contact people who were likely to “debunk the claims.”
Trump’s attorneys filed a similar suit against Mail Media and a local blogger in Maryland in September, but the case was reportedly dismissed by a judge on jurisdictional grounds.
The new lawsuit in New York was seen as a refile of the Maryland case in a new jurisdiction.