AUSTIN (KXAN) — A lawsuit filed on Tuesday alleges that “The Austin Chronicle” co-founder Louis Black sexually harassed and abused a former employee.

The lawsuit, brought by local reporter and artist Ariel Cassone, claims Black coerced Cassone into a “state of sexual servitude under the guise of mentorship” while she was employed by Black.

The two were introduced in 2008, according to the lawsuit, but Cassone started working for Black in 2016.

“Over the course of many years, Mr. Black carefully manipulated Ms. Cassone and her working relationship into a forced sexual relationship that preyed on Ms. Cassone’s desperate financial situation. Mr. Black routinely withheld or delayed payment of Ms. Cassone’s salary,” the complaint states.

Black’s attorney Jacob T. Smith provided a statement to KXAN:

Mr. Black has been made aware of the article published October 5, 2023, in the Austin Chronicle.

Mr. Black categorically denies the allegations asserted in Ms. Cassone’s complaint. The
allegations have no factual basis, and Mr. Black expects to be vindicated at the courthouse.

Ms. Cassone was never employed by Mr. Black in his personal capacity, nor employed by the
Austin Chronicle during Mr. Black’s time at the Austin Chronicle.

Mr. Black was provided with a copy of the complaint prior to filing. It is clear this complaint is an
attempt to embarrass, blackmail, and extort Mr. Black for Ms. Cassone’s monetary gain; Mr. Black
is confident a jury will see the same.

As this is an ongoing lawsuit, Mr. Black will not be making any future comment.

Cassone, according to the lawsuit, was prevented from pursuing her career beyond his control. The lawsuit also alleges several instances of sexual assault in detail.

In 2022, Black “attempted to force Ms. Cassone into marriage…when Ms. Cassone refused, Mr. Black retaliated against her by continuing to withhold her salary until she met his demands.”

“Ms. Cassone suffers immensely from the deterioration of her mental health caused by Mr. Black. She deals with complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks to this day as a result,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also names The Austin Chronicle as a defendant. It states that the newspaper was “aware or willfully ignorant” of its benefit from Cassone’s forced labor.

The Austin Chronicle’s publisher, Nick Barbaro provided a statement to KXAN:

The Austin Chronicle Corporation was recently notified that it has been named as a co-defendant in a lawsuit against its co-founder and former editor, Louis Black, who retired from the Chronicle in 2017 and has had no legal or financial connection to the paper since that time.

The person bringing the lawsuit is not now, and has never been, an employee of the Austin Chronicle. To the best of our knowledge, this person has never been paid by the Chronicle, nor done any work for the Chronicle or at the Chronicle office, and we had no knowledge of the actions or events alleged in this suit prior to receiving this complaint.

Mr. Black has been widely recognized for his contributions as a longtime creative force in the Austin community and beyond. However, these are serious allegations and the Chronicle trusts the legal process to determine their veracity.

Because this is an ongoing lawsuit, neither I nor the Austin Chronicle Corporation will have any further statement on the case.

Cassone requested a jury trial and seeks damages for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, forced labor and violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.