California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing wants to make a stand against sexual harassment in Hollywood. This past week, the agency took the bold step of filing suit against the various studios behind CBS' Criminal Minds as well as the executive producers of the series, which had its final episode in February.
The complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court discusses alleged sexual touching by Gregory St. Johns, who acted as a director of photography on the show. He's been the subject of court action already, but what makes this particular legal action so extraordinary is that California authorities have decided to go after The Walt Disney Company, ABC Signature Studios, CBS Studios and various individuals for what happened.
"With the aid of defendants, St. Johns created an unchecked intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment on the set of Criminal Minds," states the complaint. "Protected by the executive production team — including showrunner Erica Messer, executive producer Harry Bring, executive producer John Breen Frazier, director Glenn Kershaw, and unit production manager Stacey Beneville — St. Johns continued his unlawful conduct for years. Defendants’ executive team not only had actual and constructive knowledge of St. Johns’ abusive conduct, they condoned it. No necessary steps to prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination were taken over the years, nor were appropriate corrective actions. Instead, the executives fired anyone who resisted or who tacitly evaded St. Johns’ advances or abuse."
The investigation by the Department of Fair Employment was triggered after a complaint from Anthony Matulic, a former technician who says he resisted a butt slap and was ultimately fired after complaining. The authorities also say they reviewed a complaint from Dauv McNeely, who worked in the video playback department and says he corroborated allegations against St. Johns before being similarly dismissed. Overall, according to the complaint, over a dozen men were fired at St. Johns' request. The suit charges Walt Disney’s Employee Relations with conducting "various inadequate investigations designed to exonerate St. Johns."
The complaint also adds that St. Johns was only removed after Variety did a story about some of the allegations.
"Defendants chose to act in conscious disregard of its employees’ rights by ignoring the complaints made by the crew members," continues the complaint. "It was not until the media made St. Johns’ conduct public and potentially threatened their brand that Defendants removed St. Johns from the show. Even when they did so, despite the allegations against him, corporate Defendants paid St. Johns an 'enhanced severance.'"
Below is the full complaint alleging discrimination, harassment, retaliation and more. California is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, plus injunctive, declaratory, and equitable relief.
ABC Studios, a division of Disney, responded to a request for comment. Says a spokesperson, " The Company works hard to maintain a work environment free from discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. In this instance the Company took corrective action. We cooperated with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing during its investigation, and we regret that we were unable to reach a reasonable resolution with the Department. We now intend to defend the asserted claims vigorously."
St. Johns couldn't be reached. Any statements from other co-defendants will be added as they come.