Television Production Companies Bear Responsibility for Investigating Alleged Sexual Misconduct Among Actors and Others

Tropical paradise beachNew York City is home to numerous television studios and production companies, which employ thousands of actors and actresses, along with directors, producers, crew members, and others. These studios and production companies have a duty to provide a reasonably safe work environment, and to address concerns about sexual harassment and other misconduct in a prompt manner. Laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) provide legal remedies for people who experience discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual harassment, and other factors. The first step in asserting a sexual harassment claim is often reporting the matter to a supervisor or manager. A television production based in California recently offered an example of an internal investigation of alleged misconduct, which affected the production but did not lead to any lawsuits.

Sexual harassment is considered a form of unlawful sex discrimination under federal, state, and New York City sexual harassment laws. Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves demands for sexual activity of some sort as a condition of hiring, or in exchange for various benefits of employment. The “casting couch” archetype, in which actresses trade sexual favors for a part in a television or film production, is a classic example of this form of sexual harassment. The other form involves a hostile work environment created by pervasive and unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace, ranging from inappropriate comments, jokes, or overtures to outright sexual assault.

In some cases, claims under Title VII or the NYCHRL are not the only claims an individual could make. In cases of unwanted touching, for example, they may also be able to assert intentional tort claims like assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as negligence-based claims like negligent hiring or supervision.

An alleged act of sexual misconduct led to the suspension of production on a show last summer. Warner Bros., the California-based producer of the show Bachelor in Paradise, announced in June 2017 that it was suspending production in order to investigate allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct between two cast members on the show’s set in Mexico. The show is a reality-competition show that involves filming cast members throughout most of the day and night. A male cast member, DJ, and a female cast member, CO, had reportedly both been drinking heavily and engaged in sexual activity that was caught on camera. Several producers reportedly voiced concern, leading to the suspension of the production.

The main question raised during the investigation was whether CO was too intoxicated to consent to sexual activity. Shortly after the story broke, CO spoke to the media and described herself as a “victim,” although she later stated that she meant she was a victim of extensive media coverage and speculation, rather than a victim of any inappropriate actions by DJ. DJ also spoke to the media and claimed that his “character and family name [had] been assassinated.” About 10 days after suspending production, Warner Bros. announced that it had found no evidence of misconduct. At the same time, it announced that it would be making “changes to the show’s policies and procedures to enhance and further ensure the safety and security of all participants.” The new season premiered in August.

Phillips & Associates’ experienced and knowledgeable sexual harassment attorneys advocate for the rights of employees and job applicants in New York City, helping them assert claims of unlawful employment practices like sex discrimination and sexual harassment by coworkers and supervisors. Contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment Allegations Affect Entertainment Business in New York City and Hollywood, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 15, 2018

Unwelcome Touching of a Sexual Nature Constitutes Sexual Harassment in New York, and It Is Also a Crime, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 31, 2017

The Casting Couch Is Not Consensual: How a Coerced Sexual Relationship Constitutes Sexual Harassment Under New York Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 30, 2017

Photo credit: “Tropical paradise beach” [CC0 1.0], via Public Domain Pictures.

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