New York City Theater Workers Speak Out About Sexual Harassment and Assault

New York City is renowned for its theater scene. Broadway theaters offer some of the best and most well-regarded productions in the world. The various levels of “off-Broadway” theaters offer everything from the familiar to the avant-garde. Given what we know about other media industries, it should be no surprise that theater workers must also deal with sexual harassment. New York City’s theater scene has taken some steps to address the issue, but it remains a serious problem. Reports from earlier this year revealed allegations of sexual harassment and assault in a popular “immersive” theater production, where audience members may interact directly with performers, and a few have allegedly groped cast members. In order to address this sort of situation, New York City sexual harassment attorneys may not only have to identify the legal relationships between the various parties, but also the ways in which the nature of the production itself could put people at risk.

Under statutes like the New York City Human Rights Law, sexual harassment is an unlawful form of sex discrimination in two broad scenarios. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an individual with managerial or supervisory authority demands some sort of sexual activity in exchange for employment or various perks of employment. One example of this in the entertainment world is the “casting couch,” in which a producer or director will cast someone in their production in exchange for sexual activity.

The other legally-actionable form of sexual harassment occurs when a pattern of unwelcome sexual conduct creates a hostile work environment that inhibits the ability to do one’s job. The perpetrators of a hostile work environment do not have to be in a superior position to the complainant for a claim to be viable. They could be co-workers, customers, or audience members. The complainant must, however, be able to show that the employer knew about the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to deal with it.

In February 2018, Buzzfeed News reported on allegations of sexual harassment and assault by multiple cast members in a popular off-Broadway production. Rather than performers on a stage playing to a seated audience, the production takes place in an old Manhattan hotel. Performers are distributed among almost one hundred rooms on five floors, with audience members going from room to room. At any time, one or more performers may be alone in a room with one or more audience members.

The production incorporates elements of Shakespeare, Hitchcock, and other influences. As part of this ambience, audience members are given a Venetian mask to wear during the performance, and are instructed not to speak. These two factors seem to provide encouragement to a few audience members to behave quite poorly. Both male and female cast members reported incidents of groping by audience members.

In a traditional theater setting, production companies may be able to have ushers deal with audience members who act inappropriately. The nature of this particular production makes monitoring audience behavior far more difficult. Buzzfeed reports that the production company has extensive policies for reporting misconduct by audience members, but many of the performers say it is not enough. Should a legal claim ever arise, it might present some novel questions.

The experienced and knowledgeable employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent New York City workers, advocating for their rights in claims for sex discrimination and sexual harassment. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you, please contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Court Rules for Plaintiff in New York City Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 20, 2017

Comedy Scenes in Major U.S. Cities, Including New York, Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 30, 2016

Actors Fight Against Sexual Harassment in New York City Theater, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 29, 2016

Contact Information