LOS ANGELES — Emaza Gibson was thrilled when Jason Derulo reached out with the promise of a record deal. It was a dream offer, the realization of years of hard work and dedication.
But she says the deal with Derulo, the singer and social media sensation, came with strings and struggles she’d never experienced before: aggressive behavior, unwanted invitations, implications that she’d have to have sex with him to advance and fear for her safety.
“I’m at this point in my life right now, it’s very heartbreaking,” Gibson said in an interview Wednesday with NBC News. “I have anxiety; I’m traumatized. I’ve dealt with inhumane work situations. … I’m at this point where I’m back to zero and I have nothing.”
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Gibson alleges that Derulo, 34, the “Whatcha Say” singer, turned cold after she rejected his sexual advances and repeated invitations to dine and drink alcohol and that he eventually dropped her deal altogether. She accuses Derulo of quid pro quo sexual harassment.
A representative for Derulo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Derulo on Friday posted a video to Instagram denying the allegations.
“I wouldn’t normally comment but these claims are completely false and hurtful,” he said. “I stand against all forms of harassment and I remain supportive of anybody following their dreams. I’ve always strived to live my life in a positively impactful way, and that’s why I sit here before you deeply offended, by these defamatory claims. God bless.”
Gibson, now 25, moved to Los Angeles in 2008 with her sisters to chase the dream, forming the musical act Ceraadi and growing a YouTube channel that has more than 1.25 million subscribers. Her sisters decided not to pursue music, but Gibson kept working, making viral dance videos and hoping to launch a solo career.
Before the breakup, Derulo was aware of Ceraadi and invited the group to a work session, Gibson said.
In August 2021, Derulo reached out to Gibson as a solo artist for a joint venture between his music imprint, Future History, and Atlantic Records. The deal would require Gibson to produce a mixtape in four months and an album in six, according to the lawsuit.
Gibson’s contract also stipulated that she had a single featuring Derulo, the filing says.
”’I’m like, OK, well, Jason is a great artist — big, international, powered with Atlantic — this should be a no-brainer, and I should be able to, you know, start my solo career,” Gibson said, adding that she had always hoped to be on Atlantic Records.
She said she started working with Derulo to create music to present to Atlantic executives so they would sign off on her deal. Gibson states in the lawsuit that as they worked, Derulo often invited her to drinks and dinner at a members-only lounge and that she declined in order to keep their relationship professional. He later began inviting her to drink during their studio sessions, according to the suit. She said she did not participate so she could stay aware of her vocal condition and performance.
Once, in September 2021, Gibson agreed to have a drink with Derulo in the studio and was given “inappropriately large amounts of alcohol,” the suit says. Gibson took a sip and told him it was too strong, the suit says.
“I told him that I wasn’t a drinker … so it’s like, you know, you’re not listening to that the first time I tell you, and you’re still pushing on me,” Gibson said in the NBC News interview. “It’s, like, pressure at this point.”
She said in the interview that in November 2021, she told Derulo that she was not willing to go against her own morals to move ahead and be successful.
Gibson’s comment echoes allegations in the lawsuit about Derulo’s pushing her to drink.
The suit alleges Derulo responded by telling Gibson she might have to take part in “goat skin and fish scales.”
Gibson told NBC News that she was aware that “fish scales” referred to a strain of cocaine but that she had to look up what Derulo meant by doing “goat skin.”
Gibson said she learned from online articles about rituals involving sex, goat sacrifices and blood that appeared to be what Derulo was talking about.
“I’ve never heard about this, and I was trying to find and make sense of what it was, and I came across those articles,” she said.
The lawsuit states that Gibson considered Derulo’s statement an “explicit demand for sex-in-exchange-for-success” that was reinforced by other behavior, such as repeated pressure to go out with him and the scheduling of late-night studio sessions.
Allegations of aggressive behavior
Gibson traveled to New York City in November 2021 to meet with Atlantic executives to showcase her music and, she hoped, finalize her deal. Minutes before the meeting, Derulo allegedly told Gibson that a woman named Rosa would be joining them.
The suit states that while they were alone, the woman told Gibson that Derulo invited her along because he was on “some f— shit,” implying that Derulo was having sex with Rosa.
During the meeting, Derulo showcased music the woman had recorded, the lawsuit states.
Gibson said she saw the woman’s attendance as a sign of career progress, “because you’re sleeping with his dude,” she said in the NBC News interview
“So I noted that, as well, because, OK, she’s advancing,” she said.
Afterward, Derulo’s manager, Frank Harris, asked Gibson about the meeting, according to the suit. She replied that she was “thrown off guard” by Rosa’s sudden appearance, which allegedly sent Derulo into a rage.
He “immediately lost control and began aggressively hitting his arm rests screaming, ‘What does she have to do with you!? We weren’t going to tell you anything! We don’t have to tell you anything!” according to the suit.
Derulo went “radio silent” with Gibson after the incident, the suit says.
Gibson alleged that her deal was signed after the meeting but that Derulo allegedly failed to assign her a project manager and ignored her messages. Gibson said she and her mother got in touch with an executive at Atlantic Records to start writing songs and be assigned a project manager.
At a June 2022 meeting at Derulo’s Malibu home, he accused Gibson of worrying about the “wrong things” when she inquired about her budget and expressed concerns about song selection, the suit says.
He told her “smugly” that he could “always get new records,” according to the suit.
Gibson began to feel anxious about her contract obligations, the lawsuit says.
Derulo agreed to a recording session that month. The day turned sour after Derulo allegedly had another fit that caused Gibson to fear for her safety, according to the suit. She was late, the suit says, because Los Angeles traffic was affected by dignitaries in town for the Summit of the Americas.
When she arrived, Derulo allegedly charged at Gibson in front of her mother, Derulo’s own staff, a videographer and Gibson’s engineer. Derulo continued to berate Gibson until he “realized the aggressive manner in which he invaded Plaintiff’s personal space and the inappropriate volume of his voice,” the suit says.
“I had to step back … my hand just clutched my chest, because I was, like, I’ve, I’ve never been approached this way by anybody,” Gibson told NBC News.
No one stepped up
That was the last time Gibson saw Derulo, she said.
Gibson said he left early, saying he had a flight to catch.
After the session, Gibson’s mother and manager, Sandra Bales, reached out to Derulo’s manager, who told Bales that he was not Derulo’s master, the suit says.
“I know you’re not his master, you’re his manager. … What would you do if this was your daughter?” Bales asked, according to the suit.
The suit states that Harris defended Derulo and said Derulo had the right to yell at Gibson. The response devastated Gibson, who felt that “this amazing opportunity was going to deteriorate” because of her refusal to have sex with Derulo.
In July 2022, Gibson contacted the A&R executive at Atlantic Records. According to the lawsuit, the executive acknowledged Derulo’s behavior and told Gibson “the Atlantic team wants you to win, but I can’t say the same for Jason.”
Gibson was dropped from Atlantic and Future History on Sept. 6, 2022, according to her lawsuit.
She and her mother tried to contact human resources at Atlantic Records through email, but no one ever got in contact to discuss Derulo’s “sexually, emotionally and physically inappropriate behavior,” the suit says.
“I’m just trying to fight for what’s right, because what was done to me was not OK,” Gibson said. “And I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through what I went through. They wasted my time. They promised me things. … ‘Forget the contract.’ That’s what I was told. But if I wasn’t going to do, if I wasn’t doing my part according to this contract, I would be in trouble. I would be held accountable.”
Ron Zambrano, the attorney representing Gibson, said Derulo “not only broke promises and breached contracts, but his threats of physical harm and unconscionable sexual advances toward this young woman who is just trying to break into the industry were outrageous and illegal.”
Gibson’s lawsuit accuses Derulo, his imprint and Atlantic Records of sexual harassment, retaliation, breach of contract, a failure to remedy workplace harassment and violation of California’s civil rights act.
A representative for Atlantic Records did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Harris, who is also named as a defendant.
Gibson’s lawsuit seeks unpaid wages, loss of earnings, deferred compensation and other employment benefits and damages for emotional distress.
Gibson says she does not know what she possibly could have done to deserve such treatment.
“How could you be a person and do this to somebody?” she said. “Like, why? Why?”
“I’ve been doing this all my life,” she said. “This is something I’ve wanted to do as a little girl. And you don’t have to bend your morals to get to certain places.”
Diana Dasrath reported from Los Angeles and Doha Madani from New York City.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
Carol Dennis is an entertainment aficionado with an eye for all things pop culture. She dives into the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry, from movie premieres to music festivals. Carol’s passion for storytelling extends beyond her reporting, as she’s an aspiring screenwriter in her free time.