Vic Mignogna Fights Back: Sues FUNimation and Monica Rial

vic mignogna v funimation lawsuit

Vic Mignogna is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore! On April 19, 2019 Vic Mignogna filed a defamation lawsuit against FUNimation, Dragon Ball voice actress Monica Rial, her fiancé Ronald Toye, and voice actress Jamie Marchi, seeking “monetary relief over $1,000,000.00.”

Vic is using money from a GoFundMe page titled “Vic Kicks Back” in order to pay his legal expenses. It’s currently up to $141,867 of its $200,000 goal. He is being represented by Ty Beard, Esq., of ‘Beard Harris Bullock Hughes,’ in Tyler, Texas. Vic is suing them in Civil Court, in Tarrant County, Texas. This is an area west of Dallas, with a majority of conservative voters, and which Wikipedia says, “is one of the largest Republican-leaning counties in the nation.” So if the case goes to court, a jury will be pulled from this community.

On February 1, 2019, I wrote an article about Vic Mignogna and the sexual assault allegations made against him. I described the long-held rumors against Vic over the span of 16 years that reemerged with the American premiere of Dragon Ball Super: Broly on January 16. This is the latest film in the Dragon Ball series, where Vic plays the titular villain. The film’s financial success and marketing campaign propelled Vic’s name into the limelight, and criticism surrounding his years of alleged sexual assault led to a scandal on social media. Vic argues in his lawsuit that this led to him losing his job at FUNimation and being kicked from several anime conventions across the country.

Since then, there have been accusations of sexual assault by Vic’s fellow voice actors, including by Monica Rial, the voice of Bulma in Dragon Ball. However, no irrefutable evidence has surfaced along with these allegations, and the synopsis of an article about it would thus amount to a multitude of he-said, she-said stories and speculation.

Another reason I didn’t write a follow-up piece is because I’ve been busy writing a new book and preparing for the Dragon Ball-centric KamehaCon convention, held April 12 to 14, in Irving, Texas, nearby FUNimation’s headquarters outside of Dallas. This is noteworthy because Vic was kicked from this convention, and then a month later, invited back. It caused a great deal of controversy before and during the convention, with some voice actors and guests cancelling their appearances in protest.

The drama, internet rumors, speculation, and hearsay that has unfolded on social media over the last two months has divided the Dragon Ball fandom and led to a great number of verbal assaults and even death threats against those who have made allegations against Vic. This is not something I felt was worthy of describing in detail.

However, Vic’s lawsuit against FUNimation and these voice actors is genuine news because one Dragon Ball voice actor is suing another Dragon Ball voice actor and the parent company that employs them both. You can’t get much bigger than that.

Even Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla, seems to have weighed in on Vic’s lawsuit. Right after news of the suit being filed made the rounds on the Internet, Musk changed his Twitter profile picture to that of Edward Elric, the main character of the anime Fullmetal Alchemist, voiced by Vic Mignogna. This is Vic’s most famous character, and Twitter users seem to have taken this image-change as Musk’s show of support for Vic.

In this article you’ll receive a fleshed-out synopsis of the lawsuit, learn the context that led up to it, and question its merits. Could this lawsuit change Dragon Ball’s history in America? What does it mean for our community? How do we move forward?

You’ll also hear from Vic’s fellow voice actors on the merits of the case. I spoke with several of them at the KamehaCon. One voice actor told me in confidence that they are a victim of Vic’s, but they have yet to speak out about it on social media because of fear of threats from Vic’s supporters, potential harm to their family, and concerns over litigation. Instead, this actor suspects they will be called into court as a principal witness against Vic, and that they will tell their story in court.

That moment in court is imminent.

Context

This lawsuit is about more than money. It reflects the social zeitgeist of the current Dragon Ball community and modern society at large. This lawsuit and surrounding scandal joins the ranks of others in recent years involving sexual assault, such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Kevin Spacey.

With it comes a portion of our population who feel that these men are innocent victims of a society turned topsy-turvy, and others who presume they are guilty. Passionate Dragon Ball fans take sides on the issue, accuse one another of lying, or even make outright threats to harm those who support the other side. For many fans this is a landmark case of #SJW versus #MeToo, and “innocent until proven guilty” versus “believe the victims.”

Whatever you may think of Vic Mignogna, Monica Rial, FUNimation, and the other defendants involved in this scandal, whether innocent or guilty, this lawsuit ensures that the drama we’ve been experiencing in the community since January will persist through 2019, and perhaps beyond.

As of today, this lawsuit is a part of Dragon Ball history.

Dragon Ball’s History and Future

This lawsuit could have dramatic effects on Dragon Ball and the anime industry in America.

Consider Toei Animation, the Japanese producer of the Dragon Ball anime that licenses the rights to FUNimation to produce an English dub. What do you think their stance will be on an American license-holder of Dragon Ball who is embroiled in a sexual assault lawsuit? How would that look for their brand? How would that affect sales? American Dragon Ball voice actors have confided in me that they are concerned Toei will take the license away from FUNimation as a result of the scandal surrounding Vic Mignogna. Now with legal proceedings having started, the possibility of this result increases.

So far, Toei has not responded with a public statement, but there have been rumors circulating among the anime industry and Dragon Ball community that Toei is not happy about the scandal and how FUNimation has handled it since January. For example, FUNimation removed Vic Mignogna’s bonus features from the DVD and Blu-ray release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly, even though he was marketed to be on the disc alongside other actor’s content. Annoyed fans then returned their discs in protest.

Could there be a future for Dragon Ball without FUNimation? The loss of rights for production, sub-licensing, broadcast, image, merchandise, and branding would cause financial loss and rock the industry. The voice actors that work on the series would have to be replaced or re-hired by Toei or a new company that purchases the license. If they replaced them, it would cause a fallout in the community, as some would refuse to watch the show with the new voices.

Dragon Ball built FUNimation. It is their biggest brand. It is the series that enabled them to flourish in the ‘90s and enabled them to become worth over $150 million at the time of their acquisition by Sony Pictures Television in 2018. Without Dragon Ball, FUNimation would remain the largest anime production company in North America, but their brand would be missing its soul. And the core of their history would receive a less-than-favorable endcap to its story.

With that said, during the creation of this article I spoke with a leading Dragon Ball voice actor who assured me that the license will not be revoked. They are confident that Dragon Ball will continue with FUNimation moving forward, and there’s no need to be concerned. In fact, they said Toei believes the women who have come forward with the allegations, and they are taking the allegations seriously.

This voice actor prefers to have their name withheld from this story, for fear of litigation, threats, or termination. Throughout this article I will not mention any actors by name, per their request.

Court versus the Court of Public Opinion

By filing this lawsuit Vic Mignogna has flipped the script on the social divide in the fandom and the industry. Prior to the lawsuit, Vic was portrayed as an alleged sexual assaulter who was challenged to prove his innocence in a court of public opinion. Now, Vic is setting the narrative that he is a Plaintiff against a group of Defendants who must prove that their allegations against him are true, and failure to do so will make them guilty of defamation. So the victims who alleged to have been assaulted by Vic are now Defendants in a legal manner, instead of Vic being a defendant in a social manner.

Vic setting the narrative with this lawsuit has even further divided the Dragon Ball community. Despite the fact that court has not convened for a single day, Vic’s supporters are cheering for Vic and claiming that this is a moral victory, or even an outright legal victory. They seem to feel that Vic filing this case proves his innocence. Ironically, they are forgetting the ideal they have chanted, of “innocent until proven guilty.”

On the other side, FUNimation, Monica, and others must now defend themselves in what will be lengthy, costly, and complicated legal proceedings. So in the act of speaking up for what they feel was already a violation of their rights and those of other victims, they must now continue to sacrifice their time, energy, and money—and from this perspective—continue to be victimized.

Yet from the opposite perspective, Vic is the victim. He is simply asking for those who have made allegations against him to provide evidence of his crimes.

This contrast of opposites brings us back to the he-said, she-said stories. The courtroom must be the arbiter.

How should we look at this? Vic appears to be calling their bluff, with the belief that the Defendants will not be able to provide such evidence to back up their claims, and will thus be made guilty of defamation, and in-turn clear Vic’s name. But if the Defendants are able to provide evidence during the discovery process, then the defamation suit against the Defendants will be dismissed. If this happens, and there is enough evidence to prove the Defendant’s initial allegations, then it will open the doors for a countersuit against Vic. Perhaps defamation, or worse, sexual assault charges.

With this context provided, I will now summarize Vic Mignogna’s 27-page lawsuit. I am not a lawyer, so I will attempt to summarize it to make it easy to understand and to record history.

Defamation Suit Summary

Vic Mignogna’s lawsuit is a defamation suit. Defamation is the act of damaging someone’s reputation, whether through slander (spoken word) or libel (written word). You can learn more about defamation law here.

Vic Mignogna’s lawsuit states, “The Defendants have tweeted false, defamatory statements about Vic that were published and read by third parties. Indeed, many of the Defendants’ tweets are defamatory per se. The Defendants knew these statements were false or made them with negligent disregard for their truthfulness.”

It continues, “The Defendants’ conduct was willful, fraudulent, malicious and in wanton disregard for Vic thereby entitling him to punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.”

The suit also states that the Defendants interfered with anime convention staff and sought to have Vic removed from the conventions, thus causing him financial strain and damage to his career and reputation. This is known as tortious interference.

The suit claims the Defendant’s actions prevented Vic from making successful business agreements with production studios outside of FUNimation for acting roles, which further hurt his finances, career, and reputation.

It states this was a deliberate conspiracy by the Defendants to, “defame Vic, interfere with his existing contracts, and interfere with his prospective business relations, and each knowingly assisted and participated in the other’s actions.”

I have spoken with several Dragon Ball voice actors about this issue, and they claim there was no such thing as a conspiracy to defame Vic or a collaborative effort to ruin Vic’s career. The only thing they say exists is a large amount of emails and text messages from the voice actors to FUNimation executives complaining about Vic’s questionable behavior at conventions and in the studio. They say these communications span several years. If such messages exist, they will appear in court as admissible evidence.

Legal Case

Does Vic Mignogna have a strong legal case? In this lawsuit Vic outlines a cause-and-effect scenario where he argues the Defendant’s actions led to his suffering. I’ll break it down for you here.

The filing lists facts about Vic’s career, FUNimation’s role in the anime industry, and Vic’s role in making the Dragon Ball Super: Broly film a financial success, “earning $7 million on its first day and $24 million within the first five days of its premier.”

It details Vic’s career as a celebrity at conventions across the country, and how voice actresses Monica Rial and Jamie Marchi’s Liking of a derogatory tweet against Vic on January 16, 2019 (the date of the film’s premiere), by user “hanleia”  led to defamation of Vic’s character online, to him being fired by FUNimation two weeks later, and to the cancellation of appearances at conventions for the rest of the year. The lawsuit argues that their tacit approval of such a tweet by Liking and Retweeting it has damaged Vic’s career.

For the record, ‘hanleia’s’ now deleted tweet said, “Vic Mignogna is a homophobic rude asshole who has been creepy to underage female fans for over ten years and I’ve been screaming about this since 2010 but every year nothing changes.”

The suit continues, “The next day, Monica liked and retweeted two Tweets by Kaylyn Saucedo (who posts under the user name “Marzgurl”) that accused Vic of “great volumes of sexual misconduct,” urged Funimation to “reconsider hiring Vic Mignogna as a voice actor in the future,” and initiated the hashtag “#KickVic.””

The “#KickVic” hashtag was used on social media to create a trend of getting Vic Mignogna removed from conventions he was scheduled to appear at. It was effective in doing so, with several conventions cancelling his appearances. In response, Vic’s supporters created the “#IStandWithVic” and “#VicKicksBack” hashtags, which created a countermovement.

The filing states, “The repeated attention that Monica, Jamie, and even Funimation’s agents, employees or business partners, gave hanleia’s and Marzgurl’s accusations caused their Tweets to ‘go viral.’ About the same time, one or more Defendants began actively defaming Vic directly to anime conventions, speaking of investigations and Vic being fired.”

Investigation

At this point the lawsuit mentions FUNimation’s largest shareholder, Sony Pictures Television, which owns 95% of the company. “Barely a week later, Tammi Denbow (“Denbow”), a Sony executive, informed Vic she was investigating three allegations of sexual harassment against him.”

Tammi Denbow is the Executive Director of Employee Relations at Sony Pictures Entertainment, in Culver City, California. Her job description on LinkedIn states she is responsible for internal investigations when employees file complaints. Evidently one of Denbow’s responsibilities here was to oversee three allegations in her internal investigation, as described in the suit.

First Allegation: Denbow oversaw an investigation into an anecdote provided by Monica Rial, who alleged that 6 years ago she wrote her name on a jelly bean, gave it to Vic, and Vic ate the jelly bean and, “joked that he ‘ate Monica.’” Monica’s allegation implies Vic’s words were spoken with a sexual implication, but according to the suit, Vic denies this was the case.

Second: “Another alleged inappropriate conduct between Vic and two fans … at a convention three years prior.”

Third: “A single, consensual kiss between Vic and a Funimation employee who was Vic’s friend.” Again, the lawsuit claims the kiss was consensual. The employee remains unnamed in the suit.

To provide a counterpoint to this third allegation, I have been told by an American Dragon Ball voice actor who wishes to remain anonymous that the kiss was not in fact consensual. They said it was with a girlfriend of another actor, and it was unwelcome. But I am not allowed to name the person who was kissed, nor the person who made the opposing claim. In-turn, I am not making a claim of veracity for one side or the other, nor can I provide evidence. The point of mentioning this here is to show that in this lawsuit, only one side of the story is being told. This is to be expected, given that this is the Plaintiff’s argument. The courtroom will be the arbiter.

Concluding the investigation, the filing states, “On January 29, 2019, Denbow and another Sony executive informed Vic that his employment with Funimation was terminated following Denbow’s “investigation.”” The quotes around the word investigation are in the lawsuit, as if to question its authenticity.

Here we see a date of January 29, 2019, which precedes the official public announcement by FUNimation of Vic’s firing on February 5. We now see that FUNimation and Sony’s internal investigation began prior to January 29 and concluded that day with Vic’s termination.

The suit then talks about how the Defendants used FUNimation’s public statement as validation for their allegations on social media and to talk about Vic as an “assaulter” and “predator.” And how in response, Vic was booted from conventions.

Altogether, this cause-and-effect scenario is written to make a case of Defamation against the Defendants. It emphasizes the role of social media in damaging Vic’s career. It then brings Sony into the fray, and questions the authenticity and conclusions made by their internal investigation. Lastly, it shows the correlative effects of FUNimation and the voice actors using this investigation as rationale for their actions and allegations.

Proving Allegations

Vic puts the onus on the Defendants to prove that he is in fact a “predator” and “assaulter,” and to provide evidence of the supposed ‘hundreds of cases’ of women speaking out against him. The lawsuit argues that if such evidence and personal stories do exist, then they must now be submitted in a court of law, whether they want their names and stories revealed or not.

This places the Defendants in a moral bind that may cause a legal bind. If the people who shared their stories in confidence don’t want their stories and identifying information to be made public in a court of law, then the Defendants may be found guilty. The legal defense may even argue the case should be thrown out because of potential endangerment of so many people.

In addition, the suit makes requests to the Defendants to produce evidence of communication and documents related to the “investigation” performed by Sony and FUNimation, those involved in the decision to publicly state on Twitter that an “investigation” had been conducted, and those who chose to share this news with leading anime news site Anime News Network, and thus resulted in Vic’s termination from FUNimation.

If there have been any emails, voicemails, text messages, or contemporaneous notes of conversations about Vic—such as someone saying he did something at a convention or in the studio they are not happy about—it must be submitted as evidence. This is likely to determine if he has received a wrongful termination, and if so, to file an additional suit against FUNimation.

In regards to Vic proving his innocence with this lawsuit, on paper his argument reads well, but in practice it does little to further his case because it does not provide counter evidence. Of course, it’s difficult to prove a negative, and that is not the intention of this lawsuit.

In addition, the burden of proving defamation is on Vic because he is the one who filed the suit. He must show direct intent of malice to the judge. Vic does provide examples of alleged malice in the lawsuit, but it’s a question of whether or not these examples are enough to convince a judge to allow the suit to proceed, and in-turn convince a jury that there was harmful intent.

Analysis of the Filing

A couple things stick out for further analysis.

This filing provides the home addresses of each of the Defendants. I’ve heard that this is standard practice for civil court filings, but the Defendants have already received numerous threats online from Vic Mignogna’s supporters, including death threats, email and text message spam, and various insults. Now that their home addresses have been released, they can be subject to in-person harassment, harassment by mail, and other forms of assault and intimidation, such as stalking.

Given this situation, I feel like this information should have been redacted prior to being placed on the Internet where it exposes the Defendants to potential harassment. Perhaps this negligence could result in a counter lawsuit for personal endangerment? We will see how the Defendant’s respond.

Under the “Vicarious Liability” section of Page 12, it states that the voice actors were working as FUNimation’s employees during the time of their statements on social media, and as a result, were speaking for FUNimation in each of their tweets, as agents of the company. Which is to say, their tweets were ‘official company statements.’

To determine this argument’s merits I spoke with another voice actor that works for FUNimation on Dragon Ball. They said Vic’s argument is “preposterous” and “ridiculous.”

They stated that every voice actor that works for FUNimation is an independent contractor and is not a full-time FUNimation employee, nor are their personal Twitter profiles established as representation of FUNimation. In fact, they said their contracts state “Work-For-Hire” in the title of the first page.

As a result, I don’t think this argument made in the lawsuit will hold up to legal scrutiny, and it’s likely FUNimation will fight this part of the suit.

Termination, Investigation, Division

This Dragon Ball voice actor also commented on the argument that Vic is making about the cause of his termination. This actor argues that Texas is a right-to-work state and FUNimation places a morality clause in their contracts for every voice actor. This means that FUNimation can fire the employee for any reason they choose, including making the company look bad, talking negatively about the company, the series they work on, their coworkers, or any other perceived slight against the brand. So if FUNimation determined that Vic Mignogna was bad for their company’s image or the Dragon Ball brand, then they could end their working relationship without the need to provide a reason.

The actor believes FUNimation chose to perform an investigation because they do not like firing their talent—for their sake and the sake of fans—and wanted to confirm the allegations before doing so. Having concluded the investigation, they terminated Vic. But they would have been within their rights to fire Vic under whatever rationale they wanted.

The actor added that if this lawsuit goes to court, other voice actors will be asked to testify against Vic or to defend him. They felt that more voice actors would speak up for the Defendants then would speak up for Vic. They added that the discovery process would show no ill-intent toward Vic, and no form of conspiracy.

This divisiveness in the voice-acting community is causing actors to take sides, and it is straining their friendships. I have yet to speak to a voice actor colleague of Vic’s that supports him, but I have been informed by other actors that Todd Haberkorn (Jaco the Galactic Patrolman) and Chuck Huber (Android 17) support Vic. They worked with Vic on the live-action Star Trek Continues fan-created web-series. However, I did not reach out to them for this article, and they have not made public statements on their social media about the lawsuit.

Vic’s Friend Speaks Up

To provide a counterpoint, I spoke with a man who claims he is one of Vic’s best friends, has known Vic for over 30 years, and has worked with him in the music and television industries. His name is Todd Hewey, and he feels that Vic is innocent and his lawsuit justified.

Hewey said, “His lawyer must think he’s got a shot, and the law is on his side. How many people have been destroyed by hearsay, and by he-said, she-said? Or attempted destructions? We can all look at the Kavanaugh [Supreme Court] hearings. You cannot go there. There must be presumption of innocence unless there are facts [to the contrary].” He added, “It’s getting a little scary. People in this day and age of social media just appear to pile on without thinking about what they’re doing. It will be interesting to hear how the law treats this.”

He continued, “Look at what our current President of the United States did to that woman from Hustler. He sued her for what, a hundred million dollars, and he won in court. You gotta watch out when you’re dragging someone through the mud and think you’re a righteous whistleblower. You better make sure you have your ducks in a row, and have your facts lined up, to back it up with empirical evidence. If it’s hearsay, or he-said, she-said, oh my gracious lord, I mean, that can get expensive real fast for those folks.”

Hewey has spoken with Vic about his wellbeing during this time, and he said, “I know it’s been greatly distressing to Vic, especially after losing work, as that’s the main thing he does. … Before you say things of defamation against someone, you better make sure it’s more than just a memory. If it’s never been reported, there’s no police report, no filed reports with parents or other people where you have a proven, factual, backed-up statement, [this type of allegation] can cause devastation to you in the age of social media where everything is ramped up to destruction. It’s happening all through our world. Our politics is completely cancer-filled with it, and it’s now going into the entertainment field, and now it’s hitting voice actors. It’s a tragedy. They should think hard about this stuff before they start destroying lives in the name of, ‘I’m righteous and you are not.’”

Hewey made parallels between our politics, President Trump, and such court cases. He says, “’No collusion’ isn’t good enough for the other party. They want to continue. There has to be a presumption of innocence until it’s proven in a court of law with facts. Opinions are not facts. … ‘Gee whiz I don’t like this person or that person, and I heard they did this or that.’ And we’re just repeating and amplifying stuff we have no real knowledge of, or we exaggerate events that happened to us in the past. If people who say or repeat these things are wrong or malicious, I guarantee you they will eventually get caught.”

Serious Moment

This lawsuit marks a serious moment in Dragon Ball history. Not because of the show’s content or what it means to fans, but because of its American voice actors, the environment in which we live, and the long-held secrets and rumors of sexual assault that were forced into the public instead of being addressed in private.

This scandal is the Dragon Ball community’s focus at this time, and it is a mark of Dragon Ball’s culture as a reflection of Western culture at large. It’s part of the fandom and the history of the series outside of Japan.

This lawsuit is an important case in its own right, but it would not have come to light if it were not connected to Dragon Ball voice actors, the show, and its enormous fandom. The reason Vic’s alleged sexual assault became a scandal is because of the success of Dragon Ball Super: Broly, combined with the way fans told their stories, how fans have taken sides, and how they added fuel to the fire on social media as an expression of the division in our politics and worldviews. The fans told their opposing stories and the overall story about the actors grew to the point where it has led to a lawsuit.

It’s hard to say if this lawsuit is good or bad, but Dragon Ball blazes trails like this all the time. Dragon Ball is what made anime popular in Japan and across the globe. It’s the world’s most-recognized anime and manga. It’s the gateway anime for millions of fans. And it has inspired and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people. So from this angle it makes sense that Dragon Ball, among all anime properties, would be at the heart of this story about sexual assault among voice actors and the anime industry. It’s the biggest series and it’s continuing to have the loudest voice.

It remains to be seen whether this lawsuit goes to court. If it’s settled out of court, then we can likely expect a public statement from either side, or both, along with financial compensation.

If it goes to court, then expect even more drama in the months ahead.


Special Message

The article is finished, but there is a lot of passion surrounding this topic, so I think it’s important to humanize the situation. Especially because of the comments written in my previous article about Vic, which were sometimes offensive to my readers.

This news and drama might make you feel upset. I’ve seen a lot of fans attack one another, take sides, insult people’s intelligence, sexuality, political views, or whatever they can come up with to belittle someone else for having a different perspective. They forget that human beings are on the other side of the screen.

Can we stop fighting against ourselves? We are a community. Talking with people in real life is the best way to find common ground and settle disputes. Arguing on the Internet won’t solve anything.

During this time of conflict in the Dragon Ball fandom, take a moment to remember why you love Dragon Ball, and realize that this reason hasn’t changed. Focus on what makes Dragon Ball a positive force in your life. Then it will continue to have a positive effect on you and others.

Keep in mind that Toriyama wanted Dragon Ball to feel lighthearted and fun. It’s entertainment.

Remember that the people in our community are important.

The companies that make the series are important.

The actors and employees involved in this lawsuit are important.

You are important.

Let us continue to enjoy the world’s greatest anime and manga together.

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