Artist and Former Aide Sue Each Other Over Sex Harassment Claim

The artist Ross Bleckner has accused a man who worked for him of attempting to extort him by threatening to portray their consensual sexual relationship as a case of sexual harassment.

In a filing Thursday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, lawyers for Mr. Bleckner said the man, Cody Gilman, threatened to damage Mr. Bleckner’s reputation by suing him for sexual misconduct unless he agreed to pay a $2 million settlement.

But Mr. Gilman filed his own lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn in which he accused Mr. Bleckner of weeks of unwanted sexual advances, harassment and assault earlier this year when he worked as a studio assistant and general aide at Mr. Bleckner’s East Hampton home.

Mr. Bleckner, who had a Guggenheim retrospective of his work in 1995, initially met Mr. Gilman on a dating site several years ago, according to his legal filing, and they had a sexual relationship. They reconnected late last year, the suit says, and resumed their relationship this year after Mr. Gilman, a resident of California, moved to East Hampton in February and took a $750-a-week job helping Mr. Bleckner.

However, in March Mr. Gilman announced he was leaving and later had a lawyer call Mr. Bleckner threatening legal action, according to Mr. Bleckner’s suit.

Mr. Gilman’s filing characterizes the sexual contact as unwanted and forced and says he only stayed because he feared losing his job. His lawsuit reports that he secretly recorded some of Mr. Bleckner’s “unlawful sexual acts.”

But Mr. Bleckner’s lawsuit says it is unreasonable to think that the sexual contact “was the result of physical force and coercion applied by plaintiff” since the artist is 69 and stands five and a half feet tall while the defendant is a six-foot, 25-year-old construction worker.

Mr. Bleckner’s lawyer, Seth L. Rosenberg, said in a statement: “By filing this lawsuit, Ross Bleckner is saying that he refuses to be intimidated, refuses to be a victim, and is not afraid of the truth.”

Mr. Rosenberg said he had requested to hear the tape recordings but Mr. Gilman’s lawyer had refused to share them. “We don’t know whether there was staging but we do know the only person who knew about the conversations when they were being recorded is Mr. Gilman,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

Mr. Rosenberg said contacting law enforcement “remains an open issue.”

Mr. Gilman’s lawyer, Marjorie Mesidor, declined to comment on whether she had contacted law enforcement on Mr. Gilman’s behalf to pursue the assault accusation. But she stressed that any efforts to negotiate a settlement with Mr. Bleckner had not been coercive.

“In any form or fashion, there was no extortion,” she said.

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