CITY NEWS SERVICE
Testifying on Friday in trial of her sexual harassment lawsuit against producer Jon Peters, a former personal assistant to the filmmaker said he crawled into bed with her in her hotel room during the making of “Superman Returns” in Australia in July 2005.
Struggling at times to maintain her composure, Shelly Morita told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that she was tired and suffering from jet lag when she suddenly found her boss lying next to her in the middle of the night. The two were staying in separate rooms.
“I woke up and he was in my bed,” the 44-year-old woman said. “He said, ‘I can’t sleep … I’m lonely, let me just stay here with you.’ ”
Morita said she repeatedly told Peters to leave.
“It felt like a while for me,” Morita testified. “I kept saying, ‘Gotta go.’ ”
Peters eventually departed, but the experience lingered with her hours later, she said.
“The next morning, I thought it was really weird,” she said. “I was shocked.”
The allegations in Morita’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in December 2006 against Peters and his company, J.P. Organization Inc., also include a hostile work environment.
Peters, 66, denies all of the allegations and maintains that Morita signed a release of all claims against him. His legal team also contends the sexual harassment allegations were concocted with the help of an attorney representing plaintiffs in other cases against the producer.
According to Morita, she was an experienced personal assistant by the time she was hired by Peters in early 2005. She said she previously was employed in the same capacity by a long list of celebrities, including Nicollette Sheridan, Pamela Anderson, Marisa Tomei, Justine Bateman, Jennifer Connelly and Jennifer Aniston.
“I arranged the wedding for Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston,” she said.
Morita said she established a reputation for reliability when she was in her 20s, in part because she was willing to perform just about any task for her famous employers.
“If a dish needed to be washed, I’d wash the dish,” she said.
She said Peters was impressed with her and asked her to come to work the day after their interview. She said the first months went well and that she hired a nanny to be with her daughter, then 2, because of the long hours and six-day work week Peters required of her.
She said she mostly worked at his Malibu home and sometimes at another residence in the Stone Canyon area of Los Angeles. At one point, Peters gave her a $10,000 bonus in appreciation for her work, she testified.
Morita alleged the first indiscretions by Peters came before the trip to Australia when he began rubbing her thigh as she sat next to him on a couch, dialing the phone for him when he made calls.
“He would rub my leg,” she said. “I just scooted a little over and handed him the phone.”
She said she was not given a choice whether she wanted to accompany Peters to Australia.
“He said I had to go with him,” she said.
According to Morita, she was riding in a car with Peters and others the day after the alleged incident at the hotel when the producer began smoking a marijuana cigarette. He urged her to take a puff, but she refused, she testified.
“He leaned over and pushed his face against my mouth and blew smoke,” she said. “I pushed him off. He laughed and thought it was funny.”
Morita said she began looking for another job after she returned from Australia, but was unsuccessful. She said she endured further indiscretions by Peters because she did not have a savings account and needed the money.
She said that while working in his home in August 2005, she tried to drop off a status report in his room and found him naked and getting ready for a massage. When she ran out of the room, he went after her and grabbed her in a bear hug, Morita testified.
She said she told other Peters staff members about her accusations, but did not get any help from them. She said she asked Peters’ personal trainer, Steven Burgin, why he smoked marijuana with the producer.
“He said, ‘I don’t really inhale,’ ” according to Morita.
Meanwhile, Peters was abusing painkillers, she alleged.
“He would fall asleep in meetings in mid-sentence,” she said.
Morita said she was fired on Christmas Eve 2005, but actually continued working for Peters for another two months out of her home and at the Warner Bros. lot so she would not have to return to his home. She said she quit for good in February 2006.
She conceded she signed the release of claims against Peters, but testified she did not believe she was giving up her right to sue him for sexual harassment. She also said she felt pressured to sign the document by Peters’ business manager, Lester Knispel, when she met with him at his office in Woodland Hills.
Morita testified that Knispel told her that signing it was the only way she could receive $25,000 promised her by Peters as a Christmas bonus – money she needed to pay off her credit card debt.
Morita testified she earned a total of $160,000 while working for Peters. She also said that after she left his employment, she went back to work temporarily for Sheridan, earning $17,000 for performing duties that included cleaning out the actress’ set trailer after the conclusion of the 2005-06 season of “Desperate Housewives.”
Peters, the inspiration for the character played by Warren Beatty in the film “Shampoo,” was not present in court.
Morita is seeking $1 million for emotional distress and $500,000 in lost wages, plus punitive damages. Court records show Peters’ net worth is $75 million.