In the wake of country music's reckoning with sexual harassment claims, country singer Katie Armiger's ongoing battle with former label Cold River Records recently escalated with more lawsuits.
The 26-year-old Armiger first became a focal point of country's sordid history of sexual harassment a few years ago. After she abruptly left Cold River Records, Armiger insinuated that the label's response to her complaints of sexual misconduct played a large role.
Armiger then laid low for a while, choosing to go back to school. She tells Wide Open Country she's interested in learning more about law. When news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, Fox News reached out to Armiger to share her own story.
In the Oct. 23 article, Armiger went into greater detail about the sexual harassment she experienced. Those experiences include being groped as a 15-year-old and asked when she would be legal, as well as her label encouraging her to flirt with, hug, kiss and sit on the laps of radio program directors.
"There's something really horrible going on behind the scenes," she told Fox News. That article set off a chain reaction of events, ultimately resulting in more lawsuits.
An "Island Of Morality"
After the article, Cold River Records head Pete O'Heeron released a statement denying Armiger ever complained about sexual harassment to the label. Soon after, former Cold River employee Staci Kirpach took to Twitter to prove him otherwise.
In a Tweet, Kirpach shared an email correspondence between O'Heeron and Armiger showing the singer brought sexual harassment concerns to O'Heeron. He appears to downplay them and tell her nothing about the situation is out of line.
When 2017 doesn’t match 2015. pic.twitter.com/UKT34hCHiD
— Staci (@StaciSHINE) October 23, 2017
Kirpach, who worked for the label first in radio promotion and later as a consultant, tells Wide Open Country Armiger shared the screenshot with her long before the first lawsuit.
"I knew that there was pressure for her to dress differently and change the way she was behaving," Kirpach says. "When she and I began talking about our experiences there, she shared the screenshot. It reflected similar conversations that I was a part of with label leadership."
Kirpach then shared it on Facebook in January 2016. O'Heeron messaged her asking if she believed "Katie's lies or the CRR family," a message that confused Kirpach considering her first-hand knowledge of the situation.
After Kirpach shared the post again on Twitter, O'Heeron responded in a Billboard interview. He went so far as to say sexual harassment is nonexistent in country music. Nashville "seems to be an island of morality in the entertainment business," O'Heeron says.
Shortly after that comment, the Webster PR scandal broke. On Twitter, Armiger shared links to multiple stories of sexual harassment within the country community. Then, O'Heeron filed another lawsuit against Armiger.
When asked what Cold River Records' new lawsuit against Armiger was about, Nashville attorney Alex Little kept it simple. "They've gone so far as to sue her to try to silence her," Little tells Wide Open Country.
Alex Little briefly worked with Katie Armiger on her previous lawsuit. "Then recently, when I saw the article she did with Fox and then the response from Mr. O'Heeron in Billboard, I was aware of the new set of circumstances," he says.
In fact, Little called O'Heeron "scum" in a tweet and praised Armiger as "one brave soul." Little also represents pop star Kesha Sebert, whose sexual assault claims against producer Dr. Luke also played a large role in women in entertainment coming forward.
"[Little] was a vocal champion online after the Fox article came out," Armiger says. She reached out and "he was more than happy to help," she says.
Within days, Armiger filed a countersuit against Cold River Records. In it, she alleges O'Heeron specifically went out of his way to violate the terms of their previous settlement and hurt her career.
For instance, the settlement required the label to return all of Armiger's physical goods and recording masters to her. Armiger's countersuit claims that O'Heeron sent threatening emails and threw Armiger's property in the dumpster.
O'Heeron denies the claims. "There is no truth that anyone at Cold River threw away anything which belonged to Katie," O'Heeron tells Wide Open Country via email. "Any items disposed of were obsolete inventory."
The suit also claims that O'Heeron endorsed a statement from his wife Angela on Twitter that claimed a court ruled Armiger's sexual harassment claims were "baseless" and ordered her to pay the label. A representative from the label repeated a similar statement and O'Heeron allegedly told people Armiger was a "liar."
@katiearmiger why aren’t you telling people you lost your case against CRR. CRR won and U wrote Pete a check. Tell FOX News that!!!!
— AngelaOHeeron (@AngelaOHeeron) October 24, 2017
"[It's] certainly not true that any judge found in the favor of Pete or Cold River," Little says. The lawsuit alleges Cold River Records is violating the terms of the settlement and endorsing misleading statements to discredit Armiger's sexual harassment claims.
O'Heeron says Cold River remains silent on the disposition of the old lawsuit. He also says the current lawsuit has nothing to do with trying to silence Katie. "She is free to speak her mind," O'Heeron says. "We have nothing to hide."
To help with court costs, Armiger created a GoFundMe campaign. Despite the continuing battle and everyday pressures of being an artist and a college student, Armiger says she's optimistic. "I think that the culture right now is really supportive of people in entertainment coming forward," she says.
"I've represented enough victims of sexual assault to know that there's no right way to respond to sexual harassment, assault, or abuse," Little says. "So I'd never suggest someone has an obligation to speak out or tell their story. But I think Katie has played a big part in that in talking very openly to the press about her experiences."