A Nonprofit Claims BP Urged it to Hire a Soft-Core Porn Peddler to Teach Kids Pipeline Safety

Categories: Legal Battles

Danielle Dawn Smalley was with her boyfriend at her Kaufman County home in August 1996 when a spark from her father's truck ignited a cloud of butane escaping from a corroded pipeline. The explosion killed the 17-year-old couple instantaneously.

Smalley's death would ultimately lead a jury to order Koch Industries, which operated the pipeline, to pay $296 million in damages in what was the largest wrongful death award in the country's history. The case was ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount after Koch Industries appealed.

The other thing that came from the explosion was the Danielle Dawn Smalley Foundation, which Danny Smalley established in 2002 in honor of his daughter, to educate first responders and the general public about the dangers of oil and gas pipelines.

That's what the foundation had been doing for eight years when, in 2010, it began working with an industry partner, BP, to develop a safety program targeted at elementary school students and their teachers in Gregg County, about 120 miles east of Dallas. At BP's urging, the foundation enlisted Julie Elledge, a Wyoming psychotherapist who runs an education consulting organization called the StoryQuest Initiative, to develop the curriculum.

Elledge effectively became the public face of the effort in Gregg County, introducing the program to educators and briefing them on it at the beginning of the 2011 and 2012 school years. The relationship was productive -- until the foundation stumbled on one of Elledge's side projects.

The Danielle Dawn Smalley Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday, claiming, among other things, that Elledge misrepresented her professional credentials.

Ms. Elledge is listed as a "coach" for "Video for Lovers." Her affiliation with and promotion of Video for Lovers "Behind the Bedroom Doors" is the promotion of video of couples having sex on video. In addition to being a consultant to the Video for Lovers, Elledge is co-author of the book Lover's Exploration Guide, which is part of the Video for Lovers DVD package set. Elledge is also listed as a "coach" for telephone and chat and "i-chat" consultation. Although Elledge is stated to be a licensed therapist, the context of the videos and its marketing, for example, using such phrases as "all of you (sic) favorite couples are now available for immediate viewing," is at a minimum suggestive of pornography.

The program Elledge is involved in is actually called Videos for Lovers (leaving out the "s" will take you to "Boned Tube"), and a visit to its website makes it clear that, while these are videos of men and women having sex, it does not count as pornography. (Hear that, IT guy?)

Yes, each VFL DVD features explicit sexual interactions but these are real couples who have chosen to participate in the Videos for Lovers educational program for the purpose of helping other couples to have a more fulfilling relationship. They are not actors engaging in unrealistic sexual activities for the purpose of titillating the viewer. The non-explicit interviews are completely candid responses to prepared questions by experts in the fields of sexuality and relationships.

That distinction is a bit too fine for DDSF. "Even if there is an 'educational' component of (Elledge)'s work with this programs and entities, it is not the image (the foundation) wants to have as the 'face' of its pipeline safety program geared towards Texas schoolchildren nor one which is expected to be acceptable to its industry sponsor," the lawsuit says.

Its executive director, Michelle Joseph, wrote a letter to BP dated September 5 worrying that Videos for Lovers "frankly borders on pornography," and that Elledge's affiliation with it "could derail this entire program." In response, Elledge's attorney sent a cease and desist letter noting that Elledge is a licensed therapist and demanding the foundation stop telling BP that she produced pornography. Then, the lawsuit.

DDSF charges Elledge with breach of contract, interference with contractual relations (in the foundation's agreement with BP), and misrepresentation, all centered on the fact that Elledge never mentioned she was involved with Videos for Lovers. The nonprofit doesn't specify damages, explicitly asking only for declaratory judgment that its communication with BP was not defamatory and for court costs, attorneys fees, and any further relief to which it is entitled.

Neither Elledge nor her attorney have responded to a request for comment.

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Funny thing is, no one would have known about any of this if the foundation hadn't filed this frivolous-ass lawsuit. They could have just ended the partnership quietly and found a replacement.


Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway point out that partnering with these dirty industries is never a good idea because it gives them legitimacy and credibility to do this kind of trickery. 

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