According to court documents, she accuses Netflix of making a “deliberate decision for dramatic purposes” to show her doing or saying things that she says portray her “as a greedy, snobbish, disloyal, dishonest, cowardly, manipulative and opportunistic person.”
The suit also contends that she is depicted in the show as accepting expensive gifts, clothes and jewelry and “sponging off” Anna Sorokin, who also went by the name Anna Delvey as she convinced strangers that she was a foreign heiress.
“In reality, she [Williams] never did or said those things. Thus, this action is based firmly on statements of fact which are demonstrably false and the attribution of statements that she never made,” the court filing says.
Netflix and the show’s producer, Shonda Rhimes, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Convicted fraudster Sorokin, a Russian who moved to Germany in 2007 as a teenager and later the United States in 2013 as a magazine intern, was an Instagram-charmer. She lived a lavish lifestyle that began to unravel in 2018, when she was charged with multiple counts of grand larceny and theft of services after failing to pay hotel and restaurant bills in New York.
The show depicts Williams and Sorokin on an extravagant vacation in Morocco, where Sorokin avoids paying bills, despite being hounded, instead promising to send wires as Williams’s character under pressure pays the soaring costs.
Williams said in the court filing that the payments made on her credit card included airfares and a hotel stay in Marrakesh, totaling $62,000. The lawsuit adds that Sorokin later repaid $5,000 but that the whole episode caused Williams a personal “financial crisis” and forced her to borrow money to pay her rent.
Sorokin’s story was originally written by journalist Jessica Pressler in a 2018 New York Magazine article titled: “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People.” Netflix later bought the option, and producer Rhimes said at the time that she jumped off her treadmill and immediately phoned her office after reading the Pressler article. “I hadn’t felt that excitement of a story that I wanted to tell and knew exactly how I wanted to tell it in a really long time,” she told Netflix when the show was released this year.
Rhimes, who has created other hit shows including “Bridgerton,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” said of Sorokin: “She is a villain’s villain.” She added: “You can’t help but admire her; she’s fascinating. And also you can’t help but be taken by her.”
All nine episodes of the Netflix hit starring Julia Garner as Anna begin with the disclaimer: “This is an entirely true story, except for the parts that are completely made up.”
On screen, Anna the character is seen attending lavish parties and rubbing shoulders with Manhattan’s financial elite, claiming “VIP is always better,” as she tries to launch a private-members arts club.
Meanwhile, a relentless and heavily pregnant journalist, a fictional Pressler played by actress Anna Chlumsky, tries to nail down Sorokin’s shifting biography for a profile piece. On-screen Sorokin tells the journalist she looks “so very, very fat” and barks, “You look poor,” at her and other passing acquaintances.
The Netflix series was gobbled up by global audiences on release in February and nominated for three Emmy awards.
Williams’s lead attorney Alexander Rufus-Isaacs told The Washington Post on Wednesday the case was filed because the show tried to make “Rachel appear like a horrible person” and used real biographical details.
“Her reputation has been devastated. … The abuse she received has been truly awful,” he said. “This lawsuit seeks to vindicate her reputation and to remind creatives that they cannot create hate figures and give them real people’s names.”
Rufus-Isaacs is also representing chess player Nona Gaprindashvili, who is also suing Netflix for defamation over her depiction in its blockbuster series “The Queen’s Gambit.”
The court documents contend that Williams has been subjected to “thousands” of abusive messages since the show aired.
She has not specified a sum for damages but accused the show of “blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction” as she seeks compensation. The lawsuit also requests a jury trial and an injunction to have the alleged defamatory material involving Williams edited out of “Inventing Anna.”
It adds that the reputational damage done was “completely avoidable,” if Netflix had given her character a fictional name and changed some of the identifying details, for which she is seeking punitive damages.
Meanwhile, Sorokin, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post, shared a meme on her Instagram story Tuesday of a woman asking to speak to the manager and wrote: “Rachel calling Netflix this morning.”
In a now deleted story post, she also wrote: “Will gladly make myself available to testify about the accuracy of your depiction of Rachel — you know where to find me,” as she shared a screenshot of a news story from the Hollywood Reporter about the lawsuit.
The two women met in 2016 when Williams was working as a photo editor for Vanity Fair in New York, according to the court documents. They grew closer the following year when Sorokin was living in a Manhattan hotel and “passing herself off as a German heiress … who had a substantial trust fund at her disposal. She led a glamorous lifestyle, living at top hotels and attending prestigious social events.”
In fact, she had little money, according to the court documents, and her extravagant lifestyle soon racked up huge bills. In the filing, Williams said she would often offer to pay for meals, transport and saunas but that Sorokin “normally picked up the check.”
Williams later wrote an article for Vanity Fair about her experiences with Sorokin in 2018 and published a book a year later titled “My Friend Anna: The true story of Anna Delvey, the fake heiress of New York City.”
In a personal essay in February, Williams acknowledged that audiences enjoy “grift stories,” but she lambasted the Netflix show and said she was not involved in making it. “Netflix isn’t just putting out a fictional story. It’s effectively running a con woman’s P.R.,” she wrote.
She also called Sorokin a “former friend” and said she had “worked with the police to organize the sting operation that put her behind bars.”
Sorokin stood trial in 2019, with Williams testifying. Sorokin was later sentenced to four to 12 years in prison and was released in 2021 after serving more than three years, the court documents said. She has since been taken back into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She remains in ICE custody while fighting deportation to Germany.
Bryan Pietsch contributed to this report.