It takes an incredible amount of gall to not only (allegedly) grope one of the most powerful women in pop music, but to then sue her when she calls you on it. That's the course of action DJ David Mueller, formerly of Denver radio station KYGO-FM, took when Taylor Swift (via a member of her security team) accused him of "lifting Swift’s skirt with his hand and touching her bottom" during a meet-and-greet before a 2013 concert. Mueller was fired shortly after the event. He filed a suit against Swift this September — more than two years after his termination — in what he claims is a case of mistaken identity that cost him his job and future business opportunities.
But Swift has fired back with a countersuit that calls bullshit on Mueller's claim and alleges that his actions constitute assault.
In documents filed with US District Court in Colorado, Swift's attorneys write, "Mueller’s newfound claim that he is the ‘wrong guy’ and, therefore, his termination from KYGO was unjustified, is specious ... Ms. Swift knows exactly who committed the assault — it was Mueller."
The suit goes into further detail regarding Mueller's claims, and highlights, among other things, the physical differences between him and Swift ("Mueller is approximately 6’3″ tall and weighed over 200 pounds at the time he inappropriately put his open hand on Ms. Swift’s bottom and groped it. He was much larger than Ms. Swift.") and the DJ's troubled employment history (Mueller "was twice terminated from on-air radio positions he held with other radio stations").
Swift is not backing down in the face of Mueller's "it wasn't me" defense, asking in the lawsuit for a jury trial; she intends to donate any profits from awarded damages to organizations "dedicated to protecting women from similar acts of sexual assault and personal disregard."
Regardless of how this legal battle shakes out, Swift's declarative response to Mueller's suit is a power move, one that seeks to make an example of him as a representation of the systemic sexual inequity and harassment faced by female entertainers. It's the most high-profile case in a recent string of sexual harassment claims by women in the entertainment industry.
Ashley Judd recently went into detail regarding her alleged harassment at the hands of a studio mogul while filming Kiss the Girls, and pop singer Kesha engaged in a legal battle with mega-producer Dr. Luke regarding his alleged abuse, a battle the singer claims has effectively ended her career. And that's not even getting into the ongoing allegations of abuse in the comic book industry, which have mostly gone unreported and unpunished due to a combination of fear and apathy.
Kesha's protracted dust-up with Dr. Luke highlights why Swift's strong action in this case is so important. The power imbalance between men and women in the entertainment industry puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to reporting incidents of abuse and harassment; as the gatekeepers to much of the industry, powerful men are able to not only shut down allegations brought against them, but potentially oppress and harm the careers of those making the allegations.
As the biggest thing in pop music right now, Swift is in a unique position to highlight and fight this insidious imbalance, particularly because she's going up against a small-time DJ, rather than a mogul. The fact that a local radio DJ allegedly felt entitled to manhandle a woman far more successful and powerful than him speaks to the ingrained gender inequality that has permeated Hollywood, the music industry, comics, video games, and every other arm of the entertainment industry.
By challenging Mueller's claims, Swift is standing up to the apathy and inertia that fosters that systemic inequality. For a singer who usually takes the "shake it off" approach to her critics and accusers, it's a heartening and welcome development.