Thomas J. Henry, law firm among defendants in lawsuit filed by alleged sexual assault victim

Thomas J. Henry and his San Antonio law firm are defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by a director hired to work on a film commissioned by the flamboyant lawyer.

The New York woman says the alleged assault occurred in the course of her work chronicling Austin Elevates, a two-day art and music festival presented by Henry in 2019. The event benefited various charities.

She alleges Henry, Thomas J. Henry Law and film company Gray Picture failed to adequately supervise director Robert “Bobby” T. Herrera of St. Louis, Mo., and didn’t provide a safe working environment for her.

The woman, whom the Express-News is not identifying because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault, seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

Jason Davis, a San Antonio lawyer representing Henry and his firm in the litigation, said Henry doesn’t know the woman and had nothing to do with the alleged incident. Davis said the allegations against his clients are “entirely frivolous.”

Henry advised the woman’s lawyers that the claims against him and his firm were “baseless” and “likely subject to sanctions” under federal court rules, Davis said in an email Thursday.

“Plaintiff’s attorneys — apparently attempting to intimidate an extremely successful lawyer and looking for a ‘deep pocket’ from whom they could extract a settlement — nonetheless persisted in these demonstrably false claims,” Davis said. Henry and his firm are confident they will be “vindicated,” Davis added.

Herrera, who also is a defendant, denied the allegations against him, said his lawyer, Tanner Rolfes of St. Louis.

The “lawsuit is a clear attempt to damage my client and his family, both professionally and personally,” Rolfes said in an email. “We will take appropriate legal action regarding the distribution of these defamatory statements.”

Herrera is the brother of Ruben Herrera, executive vice president of marketing and public relations at Henry’s firm, the suit says. Robert Herrera is not an employee of the firm, Rolfes said.

The suit describes the director as the “de facto house filmmaker for Thomas J. Henry.” Herrera has filmed footage for advertisements and directed “Hangin’ with Los Henrys,” a one-time YouTube series that featured Henry, his then-wife and their two children.

The woman, who was 27 at the time of the alleged assault and is now 29, reported the incident to the Austin Police Department. It produced a lengthy police report that said the woman submitted to a sexual assault forensic exam.

Herrera was never arrested or charged, Rolfes said, though the suit says Herrera was arrested.

The Travis County district attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, the city settled a lawsuit brought by 15 sexual assault victims who alleged the police department and the district attorney’s office mishandled their cases, which spanned from 2006 to 2019. The city agreed to pay a total of $825,000 to the women. The city said it instituted various reforms for handling such cases as a result of the women’s allegations.

The woman suing Henry and Herrera was not part of that settlement.

Henry’s Austin Elevates included a concert that featured performances by Canadian hip-hop duo 88Glam and rappers DaBaby and Daddy Yankee.

The plaintiff, who was a fledgling actor, alleges she was “lured to Texas” by Herrera with promises of pay and experience working on “state-of-the-art cameras” used to film the “lavish production.”

During negotiations on the terms of her employment, the suit says, Herrera indicated he was having difficulty arranging a hotel room for her.

“Despite the top-dollar budget Henry lavished on the rest of his festival and film production, (the plaintiff) was told that there was no money to cover her lodging and travel expenses to work on the festival’s film crew,” her complaint alleges. “Herrera prevailed upon her to further save money in the budget by canceling the Airbnb she had reserved and staying in the spare room of his hotel suite.”

After a day of filming on Nov. 6, 2019, Gray Picture’s crew went out to celebrate in downtown Austin. Henry is believed to have picked up the tab, the suit says. Herrera ordered the plaintiff numerous drinks, leading her to eventually say, “I’m so drunk. I never drink this much,” the suit says.

They returned to Herrera’s hotel room where he suggested the plaintiff sleep in his bed rather than on a sleeper sofa. She got into the bed “fully clothed, wearing jeans and a tank top,” the complaint.

She later awoke to Herrera pulling her pants down and assaulting her, the lawsuit says. “She froze in shock and fear” and then told him she did not want to have sex, the complaint adds.

“Herrera replied, ‘I’m in love with you and have been since I met you. If I met you five years earlier, my whole life would be different,’” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiff texted her mother and friends in New York, who advised her to “grab her things and run,” the suit says.

“Mr. Henry certainly was not present for — or aware of — any alleged inappropriate behavior,” said Davis, his attorney. “Whatever may or may not have occurred between Plaintiff and Mr. Herrera after 2:30 a.m. when the two were reportedly alone in an Austin hotel room has nothing to do with Mr. Henry or the Firm — who should never have been included in this suit.”

The plaintiff contacted authorities and underwent an examination by a nurse with the the Safe Alliance, an agency serving survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and exploitation.

San Antonio attorney Thomas J. Henry attends his art and music experience Austin Elevates in 2019.

Johnny Nunez, Contributor / Getty Images for Lawlor Media Group inc.

The Safe Alliance was one of the nonprofits Henry’s event helped raise money for, the suit says. Henry is known for generously helping organizations that support abuse victims, Davis said.

The woman was supposed to be paid $125 a day as a production assistant or assistant camera operator but she never received any pay, the suit says.

The alleged assault ended the woman’s acting career “just as it was beginning to gain momentum,” the suit says. She began having “frequent anxiety attacks and anxiety” that caused her to either cancel auditions or to instruct her agent not to send her out for auditions.

The woman is set to take pre-med undergraduate courses starting in the fall with plans to become a doctor.

The woman “like other actors and young people working on film projects, has a right to be safe and free from sexual assault and harassment,” said one of her lawyers, Holt Lackey of Austin. “Our lawsuit seeks to vindicate that right.” The suit was filed last week in Austin federal court.

She is suing all of the defendants for negligence, failure to maintain a safe workplace and violations of a law that protects trafficking victims. Her claims against Herrera include assault with infliction of bodily injury. Henry, his law firm and Gray Picture also are accused of negligent hiring and supervision.

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