Windy City Rehab's Donovan Eckhardt Files $2.2M Defamation Lawsuit Over 'Humiliating' Portrayal
The show's second season was the most "traumatic event Donovan and his family ever endured," and damaged his mental and physical health, the filing claims
Alison Victoria's former Windy City Rehab costar, Donovan Eckhardt, has filed a lawsuit claiming defamation and emotional distress as a result of his portrayal as a fraudulent "villain" on the second season of the hit HGTV show.
In a lawsuit filed in Illinois's Cook County Circuit Court on Monday against Discovery Inc. (HGTV's parent company) and Big Table Media (Windy City Rehab's production company), Eckhardt — Victoria's former business partner and the contractor and developer on the show — explains his side of the story, and claims that the series was scripted and edited to make him look like the bad guy, and Victoria, 39, the victim.
Victoria, who is also one of the executive producers of the show, is not listed as a defendant in the filing. Her lawyer had no comment on the filing. HGTV told PEOPLE it does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Eckhardt departed the show in the middle of season 2 after a falling out with Victoria over their projects' finances that played out on screen. The rift, which included Victoria's accusations of questionable payouts to Eckhardt's companies, only heightened tension between the pair following several stop-work orders issued by the city of Chicago, a threatened suspension of Eckhardt's licenses, and two lawsuits from former clients alleging faulty work.
In Monday's filing, Eckhardt goes through each episode of the series' second season, explaining how he feels he was inaccurately portrayed in each. He claims that the allegations of mishandling and stealing company finances, poor communication with Victoria, an inability to perform and a lack of integrity are all false.
He also claims that he was "placed under constant pressure by Big Table Media to complete the projects being filmed for season one," and that "aggressive filming and production deadlines" from the network and production company were to blame for many of the stop-work orders, construction problems, blocked permits and license suspensions that he and Victoria faced over the past several years, all of which, he says led to legal troubles for the pair.
As a result of the time constraints, the lawsuit states that he and Victoria "proceeded with certain work without obtaining approved amendments to necessary permits, without completed inspections, and ultimately received various building code citations which resulted in the temporary suspension of both of their respective licenses and privileges to apply for building permits."
The dramatic scenes in Season 2, he claims, were "carefully scripted, choreographed and edited" to lay the blame on him. He says he was presented as "the villain and cause" and "Alison as the unknowing, innocent victim of all of the issues, which Alison allegedly encountered in Season 2 as well as Alison's claimed financial ruin."
The filing asks that Discovery Inc. and Big Table Media award Eckhardt in excess of $2.2 million for actual, punitive and compensatory damages for counts of "defamation" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress."
"Donovan has suffered emotional injuries including anxiety, depression, diminished self-esteem, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate and embarrassment, and has been undergoing continuous counseling and behavioral treatment," the lawsuit reads, claiming that the defendants were in an unfair position of authority over Eckhardt, and were aware that he was "prone to anxiety and vulnerable to emotional distress."
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The document continues, "The broadcasting of the foregoing Season 2 episodes was the most embarrassing, humiliating and traumatic event Donovan and his family ever endured, and damaged Donovan's mental and physical health."
Various cruel comments left on Eckhardt's social media are also listed, many of which contain "explicit threats of bodily harm" toward him.
The lawsuit also claims that Eckhardt has been financially impacted by the alleged defamation, asserting that his generated revenue dropped from $1,447,448.92 in 2019 to $251,565.60 in 2020.