Judge: Red Robin defamation lawsuit can continue

Judge: Red Robin defamation lawsuit can continue

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A former county official acquitted of groping a 17-year-old girl while she wore an Omaha restaurant’s mascot costume can continue his defamation lawsuit over the matter.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Thalken ruled that the question of whether former Douglas County Election Commissioner Pat McPherson was defamed by the accusation should be decided at trial.

The judge, however, dismissed two other claims against Red Robin that said it failed to properly train the girl, among other things.

McPherson is asking for unspecified damages against the restaurant chain.

The girl said she was groped while wearing the costume Feb. 7, 2003, as she visited the table of McPherson and Chuck Sigerson, former head of the Nebraska Republican Party and president of the Omaha City Council at the time.

Douglas County Judge Lawrence Barrett found McPherson innocent of third-degree sexual assault and disturbing the peace.

Sigerson had been charged with disturbing the peace for allegedly lifting the girl’s costume to expose her underwear.

Barrett declared a mistrial in Sigerson’s case after a jury failed to reach a verdict after deliberating for more than 10 hours over two days.

Red Robin lawyer Dave Welch declined to comment on Thalken’s ruling because the case is pending.

McPherson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

His lawyer, James Mitchell, declined to comment.

McPherson resigned as election commissioner at the request of then-Gov. Mike Johanns when charges were filed 18 days after the incident. The governor had appointed him to the post only eight weeks earlier.

McPherson and Sigerson were investigated for five months after the girl reported that she was inappropriately touched by them when she visited their table as they had dinner with friends.

Sigerson and McPherson had vigorously denied the allegations, saying they only had their pictures taken with the restaurant’s mascot.

The girl said she did jumping jacks and performed the “Chicken Dance” for the men before the incident. She said there was nothing sexual in her actions.

The girl accused McPherson of groping her and Sigerson of pulling up her costume.

Defense lawyers said during trial that the girl has a history of lying and thought she could get the men to pay her by accusing them of inappropriate behavior.

The girl denied that she had talked of suing the men.

Sigerson hosted the gathering at the Red Robin — which included limousine service and dinner for eight at the restaurant’s expense — after writing a letter to management that he had been unable to get a table at an earlier grand opening.

McPherson was accused of grabbing one of the girl’s breasts through the mascot costume after some of the people at the table jokingly asked about the robin’s sex. She said he also rubbed her abdomen and back.

Former Red Robin employee Leah Seymour-Karpf, who was acting as the mascot’s escort that night, said McPherson began acting inappropriately soon after the pair arrived at the table.

Trial in the defamation case is set for April 24, 2006.

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