Sacramento Kings

New charge in Luke Walton lawsuit: Lakers, Warriors, NBA could be named defendants

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Sacramento Kings GM Vlade Divac and coach Luke Walton watch players during a pre-draft workout on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at Golden 1 Center after Divac issued new comments on the Kelli Tennant investigation and his relationship with his new coach.
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Sacramento Kings GM Vlade Divac and coach Luke Walton watch players during a pre-draft workout on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at Golden 1 Center after Divac issued new comments on the Kelli Tennant investigation and his relationship with his new coach.

The woman suing Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton for sexual assault added a new complaint to her lawsuit Wednesday, a move that points to the possibility of the NBA and two of its most popular teams being named as co-defendants, a legal analyst said.

According to Los Angeles County court records, attorneys representing former Southern California sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant amended their suit filed Wednesday to allege negligence, a seventh complaint in the suit originally filed April 22. The amended complaint alleges that “all defendants” negligently breached a “duty of due care,” exposing Tennant to personal, physical and emotional damages.

Tennant alleges Walton sexually assaulted her in a Santa Monica hotel room while he was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. She also alleges he later sexually harassed her while he was head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The original complaint listed Walton as the defendant in a civil lawsuit seeking unspecified damages for sexual battery, gender violence, violation of the Ralph Act, sexual assault, battery and assault. The new allegation left her legal team an avenue to add other defendants in the future who were “unreasonable” in exposing her to Walton’s action.

The filing goes on to accuse these “defendants, and each of them,” as acting “recklessly,” and that their actions were a “substantial factor” in the harm Tennant says she suffered at the hands of Walton.

Who or what entities beyond the sole defendant Walton is not known.

Michael Robbins, a Los Angeles-based attorney and one of the state’s leading workplace investigation experts, said the NBA, Warriors and Lakers could potentially be named as defendants.

“Attorneys are generally looking for deep pockets,” Robbins said. “They want to go after people who have the most money, and that’s probably not Luke Walton. So it may be that, at some point, they’re going to bring the NBA and the teams into this, because the NBA and the teams have more money, but bringing this cause of action doesn’t necessarily mean she’s adding defendants.”

Garo Mardirossian and David deRubertis, the attorneys representing Tennant, did not respond to messages left at their respective offices Thursday.

Robbins said it is not clear if the new negligence claim pertains to Walton or supervisory entities such as the Warriors, Lakers and NBA. Robbins went on to explain why Tennant’s attorneys might have amended the claim even if they don’t intend to name additional defendants.

“It’s another way for the jury to find in your favor and another way for the jury to award damages to you as a plaintiff,” Robbins said. “They might not award it to you on the assault cause of action, because that’s an intentional tort, and negligence requires a lower standard, basically because you don’t have to prove intent.”

Mark Baute, Walton’s attorney, reasserted his client’s innocence and said he does not believe the Lakers or Warriors will be named in the suit.

“We were made aware of the amended complaint last week and it has no impact on the case or investigation for us,” Baute said in an email to The Bee. “Luke is innocent and we will prove that in court, and we are cooperating with the investigation.”

Walton was on a road trip with the Warriors in 2014 when Tennant says she went to his hotel to deliver a book she authored with a foreword written by him. Tennant alleges Walton lured her to his room and pinned her down on the bed, aggressively kissing and touching her while she repeatedly told him to stop.

Walton subsequently spent three seasons with the Lakers before the Kings introduced him as their new head coach March 15, just days after they fired Dave Joerger. Tennant filed her lawsuit a week later, sending shockwaves through the Kings’ organization and NBA offices in New York. When Mardirossian issued a news release announcing the lawsuit, he decried a culture of gender abuse and sexual exploitation of women in the NBA and included the hashtag #timesup.

The Kings and the NBA hired outside experts to conduct an independent investigation into Tennant’s claims. Kings general manager Vlade Divac said the organization doesn’t know when the investigation will be complete.

The lawsuit could drag on for four to five years in Los Angeles courts. Robbins said Tennant’s legal team could be waiting on the findings of the independent investigation or other information before identifying additional defendants.

“They could be waiting for additional discovery, either depositions or documents, and then they may say, ‘Based on what we’ve learned now ...’ ” Robbins said. “There are entities that are potentially liable here, so that could be a reason for them not simultaneously adding a cause of action and adding defendants at the same time.”

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