Astronomer settles lawsuit with American Girl over alleged doll likeness, terms kept private

Luciana, the 2018 Girl of the Year doll for Middleton-based American Girl, dreams of becoming an astronaut and the first person to set foot on Mars.

A stipulation filed late Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court states that the lawsuit filed in April 2020 by Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer and science presenter based at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, has been resolved to both sides’ satisfaction and without any monetary considerations. But it contains no details about what’s contained in the settlement.

“The litigation has been resolved pursuant to a mutual release in which no monetary payment has been exchanged,” the stipulation states.

An attorney for Walkowicz and an American Girl spokeswoman did not respond to messages seeking details and comment.

Lucianne Walkowicz
Walkowicz

Walkowicz claimed in a lawsuit that American Girl’s Luciana Vega doll, the company’s 2018 Girl of the Year, mimicked Walkowicz’s typical manner of dress and her purple-streaked brown hair, and that American Girl representatives appropriated those elements after seeing Walkowicz at public speaking engagements. The lawsuit sought a cease-and-desist order barring sales of the Luciana Vega doll and accessories and unspecified compensatory, punitive and other damages. It had also sought the cancellation of American Girl’s Luciana and Luciana Vega trademarks.

Doll lawsuit
Astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz looks at solar flares on the sun through a telescope on Aug. 5, 2015, at the Adler Planetarium’s observatory in Chicago. Walkowicz is suing the maker of American Girl dolls over the alleged theft of Walkowicz’s name and likeness to create a doll.

In February, a federal judge ruled that Walkowicz could pursue a false endorsement claim against American Girl, a division of toy giant Mattel, but threw out some of Walkowicz’s other claims.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson tossed the federal trademark cancellation demand along with Wisconsin law claims that the doll violates Walkowicz’s right of privacy, among other claims. But Peterson said Walkowicz “plausibly” alleged to have a commercial interest in giving scientific presentations, appearing on scientific television shows and participating in science-related events. Confusion about whether Walkowicz had endorsed the doll led to “interference” with Walkowicz’s “professional public persona” and diluted the value of Walkowicz’s name, he wrote.

American Girl had countered that because Walkowicz doesn’t sell dolls or accessories, there’s no competition between Walkowicz and American Girl, but Peterson rejected that reasoning.

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