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Rob Lowe Blackmailed by the Nanny?

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It was anything but a typical celebrity blog post. “A former employee is demanding my wife, Sheryl, and I pay her 1.5 million dollars by the end of the week or she will accuse us both of a vicious laundry list of false terribles,” Rob Lowe wrote on the Huffington Post Web site April 7. “No one intimidates my family. We will defend ourselves with vigor and without fear.”

He didn’t waste time. That same day, the Brothers & Sisters and West Wing star, 44, filed lawsuits against three ex-staffers, accusing them of violating confidentiality agreements and spreading lies about him and his wife, Sheryl, 46, among other charges (see box). At the center of the suits: The Lowes claim Jessica Gibson, 24, a nanny who cared for his two sons on and off for the last seven years, falsely accused him of sexual harassment and threatened to sue if the Lowes didn’t pay up. The suit additionally alleges Gibson lied to others about having “an intimate relationship” with Rob. The Lowes also sued their former chef Peter Clements, 44, and another ex-nanny, Laura Boyce, accusing them and Gibson of job-related wrongdoing. None of the ex-staffers could be reached by PEOPLE for comment at press time. “Accusations are one thing, proving them is another,” says Clements’ mother, Eileen. “I believe him to be honest, that’s all I can say.”

Why did Lowe decide to strike first—in such a public way? “He’s getting everything out in the open now through the lawsuit and clearing himself of wrongdoing,” says Donald Etra, a veteran L.A. attorney not involved in the case. “This way, he doesn’t have to wait for law enforcement to move on it.” He turned down an offer from Santa Barbara County sheriffs to investigate his claims. Instead, “he informed us that he’s chosen to take civil action,” says Sgt. Alex Tipolt. The Lowes have also gathered declarations from former and current employees saying they never witnessed Rob or Sheryl behave inappropriately.

After a wild youth that included a 1988 sex-tape scandal, Rob now says he has been sober for 18 years. He wed Sheryl, a makeup artist, in 1991, and has settled into a quieter life in Santa Barbara with sons Matthew, 14, and John Owen, 12. “He’s an amazing guy with good values and a good heart,” says friend and former West Wing costar Allison Janney. “I don’t think Rob has anything to hide, and that is why he is doing this. He’s not afraid of a fight when he’s got right behind him.”