Gorilla Lawsuit Nippled in the Bud

Alas, a long-awaited trial that promised to be a landmark in the nascent field of inter-species litigation is not to be. 

Alperin and Keller v. Gorilla Foundation­, Civ. 444886, filed early this year in San Mateo County, has settled. That means plaintiff lawyer Stephen Sommers won’t have to decide whether to call Koko — the sign-language-speaking gorilla with an alleged nipple fetish — to the witness stand. For her part, Koko owner Penny Patterson won’t be publicly defending claims that she ordered two female employees to bare their breasts to the gorilla, supposedly at Koko’s behest.

Sommers had little to say on Monday about the settlement. “The case has settled. The terms are not public,? he wrote in an e-mail.

That response is a far cry from how publicity surrounding the suit was handled after its February filing, which resulted in widespread press coverage and international guffaws. Solos Sommers and Michael Blacksburg said they were preparing to go to trial for what amounted to a relatively standard employment harassment suit. From the perspective of an outsider, it seemed they might have a case: Koko had long been unabashedly interested in nipples, most notably in a 1998 AOL online chat. And while Koko’s side of the story may never come out publicly, her response in the 1998 chat to Patterson’s plea for funds for a Maui gorilla center may give us a clue: “Hurry give-me mouth nipple,? Koko said.

Justin Scheck 

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