CNN anchor Don Lemon is denying allegations that he physically and verbally attacked a bartender during a night out in the Hamptons in Long Island, New York.
Lemon, 53, was accused of repeatedly shoving his finger in the face of Dustin Hice during the “unprovoked” July 2018 incident, according to a lawsuit filed in New York Supreme Court on Sunday and obtained by PEOPLE.
A CNN spokesperson shot down the claims in a statement, alleging that Hice had previously lashed out against the network on social media, and had made extortion attempts against Lemon.
“The plaintiff in this lawsuit has previously displayed a pattern of contempt for CNN on his social media accounts,” the statement, obtained by PEOPLE, read. “This claim follows his unsuccessful threats and demands for an exorbitant amount of money from Don Lemon. Don categorically denies these claims and this matter does not merit any further comment at this time.”
A source tells PEOPLE Hice’s team asked Lemon for $1.5 million, a sum the anchor refused to pay.
In the lawsuit, Hice, who was working as a bartender at The Old Stove Pub in Sagaponack, claims he recognized Lemon during a night out with colleagues at Murf’s Backstreet Tavern in Sag Harbor.
He allegedly offered to buy Lemon a vodka cocktail called a “Lemon Drop,” though the Emmy-winning journalist declined the gesture, telling Hice he was “just trying to have a good time.”
The two had no further interaction until later that night, when Hice claims Lemon approached him and “put his hand down the front of his own shorts, and vigorously rubbed his genitalia, removed his hand and shoved his index and middle fingers into [Hice’s] mustache,” the lawsuit alleges.
Lemon then allegedly pressed Hice on his sexual preferences, asking, “Do you like p— or d—?” as he continued to shove his fingers into Hice’s face with “aggression and hostility.”
A “shocked and humiliated” Hice said he left the bar after the “demeaning unprovoked and offensive assault,” and Lemon was gone upon his return 5-10 minutes later.
The bartender is suing for unspecified damages, and claims the incident caused him “emotional distress,” as it became a running joke among customers at The Old Stove, and led him to live “in fear of running into Mr. Lemon.”
Hice’s lawyer Andrew Miltenberg hit back at CNN’s claims regarding his social media activity, telling PEOPLE in a statement: “The assertion that Mr. Hice would put himself through the painful process of filing a sexual assault lawsuit against his attacker all because he doesn’t like a cable TV station is ludicrous. It’s shameful that the CNN attack machine is resorting to victim-blaming in order to detract from Mr. Lemon’s gross sexual misconduct.”
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