Sexual Harassment Allegations Affect Entertainment Business in New York City and Hollywood

Legal News GavelThe film industry might call Los Angeles home, but New York City is home to countless television and film productions, actors and actresses, producers, directors, and production workers. In late 2017, allegations of sexual harassment against a prominent Hollywood producer helped launch the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which aim to highlight the problem of sexual harassment in entertainment. Both actresses and actors, as well as others employed in film and television, have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by famous actors, directors, and producers. Some of these allegations may fall under New York City sexual harassment law, provided that they involve an employer-employee relationship. Not all incidents of alleged sexual harassment in entertainment meet this requirement, however, and the same could be said for many workplace settings. Lawsuits and other claims involving alleged sexual harassment in entertainment demonstrate alternative ways of pursuing justice through the courts.

Laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York City Human Rights Law prohibit sex discrimination in hiring, firing, and the terms and conditions of employment. Courts have held that sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination when employment is conditional on sexual activity of some sort, or when inappropriate sexual conduct is pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.

The “casting couch,” which signifies some directors’ and producers’ demands for sexual activity with actresses and actors in exchange for roles, is a Hollywood cliché that remains a pervasive problem. Beyond alleged demands for sexual favors behind closed doors, a recent Washington Post article discusses how young actresses trying to start their careers are pressured into doing nude scenes. It cites research showing that, in the 100 top-grossing films released in 2016, just over one quarter of “speaking or named female characters” appeared either nude or “heavily exposed,” compared to less than 10 percent of male characters.

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements might be changing how Hollywood reacts to such allegations. Two lawsuits filed in Los Angeles in 2010 accused a prominent actor of various acts of sexual harassment and impropriety in connection with a film project that he directed and produced. The plaintiff in the first lawsuit was also a producer and alleged that the actor/defendant “forced her to endure uninvited and unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace.” White v. Affleck, et al., No. BC442321, complaint at 1 (Cal. Super. Ct., L.A. Cty., Jul. 23, 2010). The lawsuit asserted causes of action for sexual harassment and retaliation under state employment law, as well as breach of contract and intentional tort claims. The second plaintiff worked as the director of photography on the film. She makes similar allegations but only asserts breach of contract and tort claims. Gorka v. Affleck, et al., No. BC441003, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct., L.A. Cty., Jul. 30, 2010).

The defendant settled both lawsuits in September 2010. In February 2017, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Contrast that to the recipient of the 2017 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, awarded in January 2018. Shortly after his win, five women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment. This reportedly led to the cancellation of events promoting his movie and a snub at Oscar time.

The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for New York City workers and job seekers in the media industry who are asserting claims of sexual harassment and other unlawful workplace practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Celebrities Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment and Abuse at the Golden Globes Ceremony, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 10, 2018

New York State Investigation and Lawsuits Review Liability of Hollywood Producer’s Company for Sexual Harassment and Assault, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 16, 2017

Sexual Harassment and Retaliation: Why Women Might Be Afraid to Complain About New York Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 1, 2017

Photo credit: Max Pixel [CC0 1.0].

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