By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A woman who claimed that New York financier Jeffrey Epstein trafficked her for sex when she was a teenager may pursue a lawsuit accusing British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell of defamation for calling her allegations lies, a U.S. judge ruled.
In a decision on Monday night, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet in Manhattan denied Maxwell's request to dismiss Virginia Giuffre's lawsuit.
Maxwell had argued that she was simply defending herself against allegations that she helped set up the encounters.
But the judge said that to suggest Giuffre lied about being sexually assaulted as a minor "alleges something deeply disturbing about the character of an individual willing to be publicly dishonest about such a reprehensible crime."
Lawyers for Maxwell and Giuffre did not immediately respond on Tuesday to requests for comment.
Epstein spent a year in jail after pleading guilty in 2008 to procuring an underage girl for prostitution. He is not a defendant in Giuffre's lawsuit. His lawyer declined to comment.
Giuffre, now in her 30s, claimed that Maxwell recruited her into Epstein's circle, where she said Epstein forced her to have sex with him and friends like Britain's Prince Andrew.
A lawyer for Epstein has called the trafficking allegations old and discredited. Prince Andrew has denied the allegations concerning him.
Giuffre sued over statements in January 2015 by Maxwell's agent, and later referred to by Maxwell, that said her allegations "against Ghislaine Maxwell are untrue" and have been "shown to be untrue," and that her "claims are obvious lies."
Sweet said such statements could support a defamation claim if Giuffre could prove it.
"Society takes accusations of pedophilia and sexual abuse sufficiently seriously that it is plausible to allege that to claim an individual has made false accusations of underage sex abuse would expose that individual to public contempt, ridicule, aversion, and disgrace in the minds of right-thinking persons," the judge wrote.
Sweet distinguished the case from the Jan. 21 dismissal of a defamation lawsuit by Renita Hill against comedian Bill Cosby and his representatives after she accused him of sexual assault.
The judge said Hill's case differed because the statements in question were that the sexual assault allegations were merely unsubstantiated. He called the difference "slight but significant," because both true and false allegations could be described accurately as "unsubstantiated."
The case is Giuffre v. Maxwell, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-07433.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and David Ingram; Editing by Bill Rigby)