Oprah settles defamation suit out of court
Avoiding a potentially ugly spectacle, Oprah Winfrey Tuesday settled a defamation suit filed against her that was scheduled for trial in Philadelphia next week.
The billionaire talk-show mogul was sued by Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane, who was the headmistress of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa until allegations in October 2007 that a dormitory matron sexually assaulted six girls.
Winfrey and Mzamane met privately in Chicago Monday and agreed to settle the case, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.
Their lawyers issued a joint statement saying the dispute was ended "peacefully." There was no mention of any financial settlement.
According to the suit, which was filed in 2008, Winfrey suggested during a meeting with parents and a subsequent satellite news conference that Mzamane was not trustworthy and tried to cover up the allegations of abuse.
"I trusted her," Winfrey said of Mzamane during a meeting with parents. "When I appointed her, I thought she was passionate about the children of Africa ... but I have been disappointed."
Mzamane said she was not aware of any sexual abuse and later had trouble getting another job after Winfrey's remarks.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno last week dismissed Winfrey's request to have the suit thrown out of court. In a 128-page opinion, Robreno concluded statements Winfrey made were "capable of defamatory meaning."
Winfrey, 56, was expected to testify.
An e-mail from Winfrey's company, Harpo Inc., was sent to the media Tuesday evening announcing that the case was settled.
"The two parties met woman to woman without their lawyers and are happy that they could resolve this dispute peacefully to their mutual satisfaction," the statement said.
"Ms. Winfrey testified in her deposition that she did not intend the implications placed on her words by the plaintiff. Ms. Mzamane testified in her deposition that she has no evidence that Ms. Winfrey knowingly made a false statement about her or entertained serious doubt about the truth of what she said. We are pleased both parties have reached a conclusion."
The statement was attributed to Charles L. "Chip" Babcock and Nancy W. Hamilton, attorneys for Winfrey, and Timothy McGowan and Matthew Reber, attorneys for Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane.
McGowan and Reber, who are based in Philadelphia, did not respond to a request for further comment.
Reached by phone, Babcock declined to say if Mzamane is being paid by Winfrey to end the suit.
Babcock did say Mzamane's lawyers are expected to file a document in court Wednesday saying their client wishes to dismiss all of her claims and that the defendants have no objections.
The case was filed in Philadelphia because Mzamane kept a residence here. She was an administrator at Germantown Friends School before Winfrey recruited her for the South African school, which opened in January 2007.
Mzamane now lives and works in Kenya.
Virginia "Tiny" Makopo, the dorm matron at the Winfrey academy, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she abused students.
In 1998, Winfrey famously beat back a defamation suit filed against her by Texas cattlemen.
The cattle producers charged that Winfrey knowingly made false and disparaging statements about beef on her show in 1996. The cattlemen said Winfrey's comments caused cattle prices to plummet 11 percent the next day.
That suit was dismissed by a federal judge.
This month, Forbes listed Winfrey's net worth at $2.4 billion. However, for trial purposes, lawyers stipulated the amount at $1.2 billion, according to the Associated Press.