Fallout from the #MeToo sexual harassment accusations that began in 2017 continued to play out on Wednesday, when a former PBS talk show host was ordered by a judge to reimburse a total of nearly $1.5 million.
The ruling calls for Tavis Smiley -- who was suspended by PBS on December 13, 2017 -- to pay the network $1.486 million after accusations arose that he violated the “morals clause” in his contract by sexually assaulting several women who were guests or otherwise took part in episodes of his program.
According to an article posted on Wednesday by Eriq Gardner, a senior editor of The Hollywood Reporter magazine and website:
As the #MeToo movement gained steam, PBS wished to disassociate itself with a television personality accused of behaving inappropriately toward subordinates.
In the 100 years since Hollywood began inserting clauses into contracts that forbid talent from doing anything that would injure reputations, the subject of morals clauses has hardly ever been put to test before a jury.
During the trial, Gardner stated, “PBS presented more than half a dozen women who spoke how they were pressured into relationships or had become the victim of unwanted advances.”
Meanwhile, Smiley “insisted the relationships were consensual, and the jury had to consider whether the morals clauses covered the conduct alleged.”
The situation became more complicated when D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams previously ruled that Smiley's conduct dating years and even decades back was outside the scope of the contract.
Nevertheless, the senior editor noted, “The judge allowed the jury to hear from the women given claims that Smiley continued to have a sexual relationship with an executive producer on his show, publicly lied about a 2007 settlement agreement with a female subordinate and appeared on Facebook and ABC's Good Morning America to defend himself.”
On the witness stand, Smiley claimed that the women's stories were filled with “lies.”
The jury also heard from a marketing expert who “spoke about the PBS brand and how accusations against Smiley could tarnish the broadcaster's wholesome image.” “In response,” Gardner reported, “Smiley suggested that it was he who had suffered reputational harm from a rash judgment, insinuated that PBS leaked news about the suspension to the media and brought up other individuals like Charlie Rose who had been associated with PBS and subject to sexual misconduct claims.”
"We are pleased with the jury’s decision," the company noted in a statement. "PBS expects our producing partners to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect.”
As NewsBusters previously reported, that judge ruled against a motion to dismiss allegations regarding Smiley, who “spent decades engaged in sexual relationships with subordinates and guests on his show and committed acts of verbal abuse [and] inappropriate touching and made unwanted sexual comments.”
Smiley, who has not yet responded to Wednesday’s ruling, has claimed that he already stopped all consensual relationships with employees and even accused PBS of racial bias.