Paula Abdul filed a lawsuit on Friday against Nigel Lythgoe, a former longtime producer of “American Idol,” accusing him of sexually assaulting her when she was a judge on the reality show in the early 2000s.
In the lawsuit, Ms. Abdul says that during one of the early seasons of “American Idol,” Mr. Lythgoe shoved her against the wall of a hotel elevator, grabbed her genitals and breasts and began “shoving his tongue down her throat.” Ms. Abdul said in the lawsuit that she tried to push Mr. Lythgoe away, and that when the elevator doors opened, she ran to her hotel room and called one of her representatives in tears.
Mr. Lythgoe helped turn “American Idol” into a phenomenon in the United States in 2002 after developing an earlier iteration of the show in Britain. He was also a creator of “So You Think You Can Dance,” on which he appeared as a judge for 16 seasons.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Lythgoe denied the allegations, saying that he would “fight this appalling smear with everything I have.”
“To say that I am shocked and saddened by the allegations made against me by Paula Abdul is a wild understatement,” Mr. Lythgoe said in the statement. “For more than two decades, Paula and I have interacted as dear — and entirely platonic — friends and colleagues. Yesterday, however, out of the blue, I learned of these claims in the press and I want to be clear: Not only are they false, they are deeply offensive to me and to everything I stand for.”
He added that he could not “pretend to understand exactly why she would file a lawsuit that she must know is untrue.”
Both Mr. Lythgoe and Ms. Abdul, who rose to fame as a choreographer and pop star in the late 1980s, became fixtures of American reality television as judges with the power to turn promising singers and dancers into stars. Ms. Abdul spent eight seasons on “American Idol,” entertaining viewers with her gushing commentary and playful rivalry with her fellow judge Simon Cowell.
After leaving “American Idol,” Ms. Abdul was a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” working alongside Mr. Lythgoe in 2015 and 2016. She says in the lawsuit that Mr. Lythgoe again made advances during this time, while she was at his home to discuss work.
“Lythgoe forced himself on top of Abdul while she was seated on his couch and attempted to kiss her while proclaiming that the two would make an excellent ‘power couple,’” the lawsuit said. “Abdul pushed Lythgoe off of her, explaining that she was not interested in his advances, and immediately left Lythgoe’s home.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, said Ms. Abdul did not speak publicly about the encounters because she feared retaliation from Mr. Lythgoe.
Ms. Abdul is suing under a California law that allows people making sexual assault accusations to file claims outside the statute of limitations for a limited period of time.
In her lawsuit, Ms. Abdul, 61, also accused Mr. Lythgoe, 74, of verbal harassment, saying that he called her at one point and told her they should celebrate because “it had been ‘seven years and the statute of limitations had run.’”
Ms. Abdul also brought the lawsuit against production companies behind “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” accusing them of negligence. Representatives for the shows and the production companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
When Ms. Abdul left “American Idol” in 2009, there was speculation that her exit was the result of disagreements about pay disparities with the show’s male faces.
In her lawsuit, Ms. Abdul says that as a judge on “American Idol,” she was “discriminated against in terms of compensation and benefits.” She describes her relationship with the show’s producers and other judges as “strained from the start,” saying that she was the target of “constant taunts” from Mr. Lythgoe and others involved in the show and that selective editing made her appear “inept.”
Mr. Lythgoe was a largely behind-the-scenes figure with “American Idol,” leaving as an executive producer of the show about a decade ago, but he has been center stage on “So You Think You Can Dance,” turning himself into a performing arts impresario and advocate for dance education. He is scheduled to return as a judge in the spring.