Jeffrey Tambor's Ex-Assistant and Accuser Breaks Silence: "He Has Done This to Himself"
Van Barnes worked for two years as the 'Transparent' star's Girl Friday. Now she's opening up about the alleged abuse and internal investigation that led to Tambor's firing from the show that won him two Emmys.
The personal assistant whose claims of sexual harassment and abusive behavior against former boss Jeffrey Tambor led to the star's dismissal from Transparent is breaking her silence.
In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter, Van Barnes, 42, pushes back against Tambor's claims that the Amazon Studios internal investigation — that resulted in his firing from a show that won him two outstanding lead actor in a comedy series Emmys — was "deeply flawed."
Says Barnes: "I stand by my truth."
Barnes started as a consultant on the show. She was then offered the job of assistant by Tambor himself. What followed, Barnes alleges, was a pattern of verbally abusive behavior (Barnes says Tambor regularly subjected her to temper tantrums and demeaning insults) and sexual harassment (she says Tambor gave her "butt pats" and suggested the two have an affair).
The allegations became publicly known after Barnes wrote a Facebook post on Oct. 16 in support of the growing #MeToo movement. While she never mentioned Tambor by name — halfway through their working relationship he insisted she sign a nondisclosure agreement — it was widely understood that the "fucking monster" she referred to in the post was him.
After a second accuser came forward — Trace Lysette, an actress on Transparent and former roommate of Barnes' — to assert that she too was sexually harassed by Tambor on the Transparent set, Amazon launched an internal investigation.
The results of that investigation were announced on Feb. 15: The show would move on without Tambor. Series creator Jill Soloway expressed her "great respect and admiration" for Barnes and Lysette in a statement.
But Tambor responded with a statement of his own, saying he was "profoundly disappointed in Amazon's handling of these false accusations against me. … I am even more disappointed in Jill Soloway's unfair characterization of me as someone who would ever cause harm to any of my fellow castmates." He then called the investigation "deeply flawed and biased toward the toxic politicized atmosphere that afflicted our set," without elaborating further.
Now Barnes offers this in response to Tambor's statement:
For two years I worked as Mr. Tambor’s personal assistant during the filming of the Amazon show Transparent, as well as assisting him on other projects and in his private life. During this time, I experienced an extremely volatile work environment, which included frequent and persistent sexual harassment, physical harassment, verbal abuse and abuse of power by Mr. Tambor. During this time, I made several attempts to address Mr. Tambor’s inappropriate behavior with both executives of the show as well as with Mr. Tambor’s personal management team at The Burstein Co., all to no avail. Mr. Tambor’s assertion that these accusations were never revealed or discussed with him are completely ludicrous. In January 2017, when it was clear to me that things would not change with Mr. Tambor, I quit working as his assistant.
In November 2017, Jill Solloway’s company, Topple Productions, took steps to investigate Mr. Tambor’s behavior on the set of Transparent in light of the accusations by not only me, but my fellow castmate, Trace Lysette, as well. An outside legal investigative firm specializing in employment-related harassment was hired, and they conducted a thorough, three-month-long investigation. The investigation was extremely professional, exhaustingly thorough and all-encompassing.
For Mr. Tambor to now characterize this investigation as “biased” and “politicized” is an insult to the numerous people he has worked with through the years who were forced to participate in an investigation created by his own actions. Mr. Tambor’s lengthy abuse and harassment of me continues to haunt me and is a clear indication of how we got to this point.
I take no celebration in the firing of Mr. Tambor from Transparent, because this man's actions have jeopardized many people's jobs, especially many transgender people struggling to find work in Hollywood.
I do however believe it is just. He has done this to himself.
I have stood behind my #metoo post, because as it took shape I realized that I had an opportunity to protect the next victim and to challenge my employer to take an important position for transgender employment protection. All of these events are completely unfortunate, and I am forever changed by this. This has and continues to be a long road toward recovery and forward movement. It is highly unfortunate that Mr. Tambor has chosen to lash out at myself, Jill Soloway, and others, rather than accept accountability for his actions.
I stand by my truths.
After the publication of Barnes' above letter, Tambor's manager Joannie Burstein wrote in response: "My associates and I spoke to Van Barnes on an almost daily basis when she was Jeffrey Tambor’s assistant. At no time did she ever complain or allude to me or anyone in my company that Jeffrey Tambor sexually harassed or sexually abused her in any way. Had any of us ever received a complaint of that nature, we would have addressed it immediately."
9:37 pm, Feb. 26 Updated with Joannie Burstein's statement.