New York maid hits Strauss-Kahn with civil lawsuit

NEW YORK Mon Aug 8, 2011 6:26pm EDT

Nafissatou Diallo, the Manhattan maid who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her, stands before speaking during a media conference at the Christian Cultural Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York July 28, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Nafissatou Diallo, the Manhattan maid who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her, stands before speaking during a media conference at the Christian Cultural Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York July 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a housekeeper in a "violent and sadistic attack" in his hotel suite in Manhattan in May, a civil lawsuit filed on Monday alleges.

The lawsuit, which follows criminal charges against the Frenchman, repeats the version of events that Nafissatou Diallo, the woman who accused him, has told since she revealed her identity in media interviews last month.

She said a naked Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom in his $3,000-a-night suite at the Sofitel Hotel on May 14 and forced her to perform oral sex.

"Believing he was immune from the laws of this country, defendant Strauss-Kahn intentionally, brutally and violently sexually assaulted Ms. Diallo and in the process humiliated, degraded, violated and robbed Ms. Diallo of her dignity as a woman," according to the complaint.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, has denied the allegations and his lawyers said in a statement that the civil case showed Diallo was motivated by money.

Strauss-Kahn resigned as chief of the International Monetary Fund a few days after his arrest in May.

The civil lawsuit, which does not seek specific damages, says Diallo will give evidence that the man once considered a leading contender for the French presidency harassed and assaulted other women in the past. It was filed in the Bronx where Diallo, an illiterate 32-year-old mother, lives.

The lawsuit, brought by Diallo's attorney, Kenneth Thompson, says the assault "left Ms. Diallo's life and her young daughter's life in shambles." It alleges physical, emotional and psychological injuries and seeks compensatory and punitive damages, along with attorneys' fees.

"We have maintained from the beginning that the motivation of Mr. Thompson and his client was to make money," Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, William Taylor and Benjamin Brafman, said in their statement.

"The filing of this lawsuit ends any doubt on that question. The civil suit has no merit and Mr. Strauss-Kahn will defend it vigorously."

The criminal case against Strauss-Kahn has wavered for weeks, since prosecutors revealed Diallo lied about her past and her actions immediately after the incident.

With Diallo's credibility in doubt, prosecutors are still investigating the criminal case against Strauss-Kahn as they decide whether to press ahead with charges or drop the case.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the civil case. Strauss-Kahn's next criminal court date is August 23.

CIVIL CASE THREATENED FOR WEEKS

Diallo's lawyers have said for weeks that she would bring a civil case against Strauss-Kahn.

Accusers in such cases often hide from the media glare until the criminal case is over. Many media outlets, including Reuters, protect their identities by not revealing their names.

But Diallo, the daughter of an imam from Guinea, broke her silence in July, revealing her identity in interviews to Newsweek and ABC News.

With the criminal case at risk, Diallo, known as "Nafi" to friends, took the unusual step of holding a press conference.

Her lawyer said she come forward to defend her reputation, particularly after the New York Post reported she had worked as a prostitute. She has filed a lawsuit against the newspaper for libel.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have called on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to dismiss the case, while women's and immigrant advocates have urged him to press forward.

Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest after the revelations about Diallo's credibility but is barred from leaving the United States.

A criminal conviction would essentially guarantee victory in the civil case, legal experts say. But her lawsuit may still be viable even if the criminal charges are dismissed.

In a criminal trial, prosecutors must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. But in a civil suit Diallo only has to show her version of events is more likely than Strauss-Kahn's.

Unlike in a criminal case, where a jury may not draw any conclusions from a defendant's decision not to testify, civil defendants typically must tell their story at trial.

Diallo's decision to file a civil action in the Bronx, where plaintiffs traditionally fare better than other boroughs in New York City, also could work in her favor.

"The reputation of the Bronx is that it's a notoriously plaintiff-favorable jurisdiction," said David Ratner, a civil litigator at the law firm Morelli Ratner.

Even if Diallo wins her civil case she may find it hard to extract any money from Strauss-Kahn if he returns to France.

(Additional reporting by Leigh Jones and Jessica Dye, editing by Mark Egan and Christopher Wilson)