Reality Television Program Deals with Sexual Harassment Complaints

The television industry is constantly trying to find new ideas and stories to present to the public. The genre commonly known as “reality television” allows producers to create large amounts of content with relatively small budgets. It has proven to be a very popular and lucrative genre over the past twenty years, but it has also generated its share of controversy. In late 2019, the producers of one of the longest-running reality shows in the country addressed allegations that are familiar to New York City sexual harassment attorneys with knowledge of the entertainment business. Several female contestants on a reality competition show complained of inappropriate behavior by a male contestant. The showrunners eventually removed the male contestant from the show, and have pledged to change their policies for future seasons of the show.

The set of a television program is a workplace, just like an office, store, factory, or warehouse. Everyone working on or around a set is entitled to a workplace free of unlawful sexual harassment. Laws like the New York City Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 view sexual harassment as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. Pervasive and unwelcome sexual remarks, unwanted touching, and other nonconsensual behavior on a set constitute sexual harassment in violation of the law.

The reality television controversy mentioned earlier involves one of the first such shows to find a large audience in the U.S. Its first season aired in the spring and summer of 2000, and its network has broadcast new seasons at a rate of about two per year. The controversy occurred during the filming and airing of the show’s thirty-ninth season. The show’s premise involves organizing groups of strangers into teams and placing them in a remote location, often on a tropical island in the Pacific or Indian Ocean. The contestants must fend for themselves to a large extent, and they must participate in various challenges to gain points. Each week, one or more contestants is eliminated from the show, until only one person remains.

The combination of a remote location, a group of strangers in competition with one another, and a production team that rarely intervenes seems like it could lend itself to inappropriate behavior. Other than an incident in 2004, the allegations from 2019 appear to be the first time multiple people have complained publicly about someone else on the show. After several female contestants complained of improper touching, the show’s producers reportedly gave the male contestant a warning. They removed him from the show “after a report of another incident.” These events all occurred in April 2019, during filming of the show, but did not become known to the public until the episodes aired in November and December.

The producers announced that, starting with the show’s upcoming fortieth season, contestants will receive “pre-production orientation specific guidelines regarding personal space, inappropriate behavior, and how to report these issues.” They also said that a new rule will prohibit all “unwelcome physical contact, sexual harassment and impermissible biases” in the competition.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job applicants in claims of sexual harassment in the media industry and other unlawful workplace acts under federal, state, and city law. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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