No one doubts that sexual harassment is a common feature of working on TV and movie productions. Rarely, however, do the details of such harassment reach the public. A notable exception is the lawsuit recently filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against the producers and studios behind the long running drama “Criminal Minds.” The lawsuit is based upon alleged acts of harassment by the director of photography for the production.
The complaint names several defendants, including the Walt Disney Co., ABC Signature Studios, Inc. CBS Studios, Inc. the director and several members of the executive production team. The complaint alleges that over the course of 14 years, the director of photography used “his position of power to create an unchecked hostile work environment . . . for members of the production crew.” According to the complaint, the director used his position of power to reward those men who returned his favors and to punish those who did not. Among the alleged penalties were the silent treatment, social ostracism, unfair criticism, public shaming and ultimately termination of the person’s employment.
One of the most important allegations in the complaint is the charge that the executive production team had knowledge of the director’s harassing activities and condoned the alleged conduct. The state agency issued a statement along with the complaint in which it charged that the director’s conduct led to the firing of more than a dozen men who resisted his advances. If proved, this allegation could become the basis for assessing monetary damages against these defendants.
For its part, ABC Studios stated that it “took corrective action” by cooperating with the Department during its investigation. ABC said that it regretted its inability to reach an agreement with the state but that it intended to “vigorously” defend the asserted claims.
Allegations of sexual harassment against the director first surfaced in 2018 when Variety Magazine reported that he continued to work on the program even though the state had launched an open investigation in to the harassment charges. According to the state report, several crew members had reported the director’s alleged abuse to senior management no action was taken.
The defendants in this case appear to have made a fundamental error in not taking the harassment charges seriously when they first came to light. Agencies charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws do not appreciate wasting their time. A quick acknowledgement of the charges and a sincere effort to resolve the claims may have saved the defendants far more than they will now be forced to spend to defend the claims on their merits.