The ex-girlfriend of Tiger Woods has accused him of sexual harassment, saying he pursued a sexual relationship with her when she was his employee and then forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement about it – or be fired from her job if she did not, according to a document filed by her attorney Friday in a Florida state court.
“Mr. Woods was Ms. Herman’s boss,” said the attorney for Erica Herman. “On Mr. Woods’s own portrayal of events, he imposed an NDA on her as a condition to keep her job when she began having a sexual relationship with him. A boss imposing different work conditions on his employee because of their sexual relationship is sexual harassment.”
The filing is part of a dispute between them that arose after the couple broke up in October.
Herman worked at Woods’ restaurant, The Woods, in Jupiter, Florida, when they began their relationship.
She filed a lawsuit in October against the trust Woods established for his residence in Florida in 2017, not against Woods himself.
Herman alleged in that public lawsuit that she had an oral tenancy agreement to stay at the residence for about five more years. She claimed more than $30 million damages after she said she was locked out of the home in violation of the agreement.
Then the dispute got more complicated, leading to the court document filed Friday by her attorney, Benjamin Hodas.
“Tiger Woods, the internationally renowned athlete and one of the most powerful figures in global sports, decided to pursue a sexual relationship with his employee, then – according to him – forced her to sign an NDA about it or else be fired from her job,” said the document filed by her attorney. “And, when he became disgruntled with their sexual relationship, he tricked her into leaving her home, locked her out, took her cash, pets, and personal possessions, and tried to strong-arm her into signing a different NDA.”
In December, Woods responded to Herman’s initial lawsuit by initiating confidential arbitration proceedings to resolve the dispute in accordance with the terms of the NDA the two signed near the start of their relationship in 2017, according to court documents filed by Woods’ attorney. That NDA purportedly requires her to resolve any disputes between the two in confidential arbitration instead of public court, though Herman’s attorney raised questions Friday about the NDA that Woods’ attorney filed in this dispute as an exhibit and said she does not recall signing it.
In January, Herman then dropped a legal bomb of sorts into those private proceedings. She alleged the conflict involved a “sexual harassment dispute,” a claim that led the American Arbitration Association to suspend those confidential proceedings under a new federal law that can invalidate forced arbitration agreements in cases of sexual harassment or assault.
In March, Herman followed up on that by filing another lawsuit in public state court, this time against Woods himself – a filing that asks the court to release her from the NDA with Woods. In that case, she also cited a new federal law that can invalidate NDAs in cases of sexual harassment or assault.
These new laws were enacted last year as a way to stop sexual predators from using NDAs and forced confidential arbitration to hide their sexual misconduct.
In Herman’s case, she did not initially make specific allegations about such misconduct against Woods. Her attorney instead cited those federal statutes and made the following reply when filling out a cover sheet for the lawsuit filed against Woods on March 6.
“Does this case involve allegations of sexual abuse?” the form asked.
“Yes,” he answered, without being more specific.
But in order for her lawsuit to proceed in public court and avoid going back into private arbitration, legal experts told USA TODAY Sports she needed to make more detailed allegations about any sexual harassment or abuse she claims to have suffered.
She did that with her filing on Friday.
“The landlord made the availability of her housing conditional on her having sexual relationship with a co-tenant,” her filing stated. “That conduct amounts to sexual harassment under federal and Florida fair housing laws.
“The short summary of events here and the Defendant’s own linking of the purported agreement to his sexual motivations in both her employment and housing are sufficient to bring this case within the ambit of the Ending Forced Arbitration Act.”
Woods’ attorney, J.B. Murray, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. He stated in previous court documents that Herman is “not a victim of sexual assault or abuse sought to be protected by Congress when enacting the statute.”
He denied Herman had an oral tenancy agreement and described her as a “jilted ex-girlfriend” who was making specious claims. He also described Herman’s public court filings as a way to put pressure on Woods, who famously guards his privacy and once was ensnared in a sex scandal.
Murray wants the court to kick the matter back into private arbitration proceedings, as stipulated by their NDA.
“Ms. Herman argues that she cannot be required to arbitrate her claims because a new federal statute … provides that a party to an arbitration agreement cannot be required to arbitrate a ‘sexual assault dispute’ or a ‘sexual harassment dispute,’” Woods’ attorney wrote in a recent filing. “Ms. Herman’s position is utterly meritless.”
Herman’s attorney also noted that “while Ms. Herman may well be entitled to compensation under a sexual harassment claim, she has not brought this case to recover a cent in damages from Mr. Woods.”