'The Mentalist' Actress Sues Warner Bros. TV Claiming Sex Harassment

The Mentalist
Lance Staedler/CBS

In the prime Thursday at 10 p.m. slot, the veteran procedural starring Simon Baker is averaging 12 million total viewers and a 2.4 demo rating in its fourth season. A recent time-slot trial on Friday night, where it notched 11.8 million viewers and a 2.0 in the demo, was down nearly 30 percent in the later but up double digits in the time slot previously occupied by A Gifted Man, which had completed its run.

A former background actress on CBS' The Mentalist has sued producer Warner Bros. Television and its casting service claiming her role was reduced and eventually eliminated when she complained about a daily barrage of sexually charged comments directed at her by a fellow employee.

Shanelle Howard, who says she has performed as a stand-in and background actress on the hit Simon Baker procedural drama since it launched in 2008, filed suit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court against WBTV; the fellow employee, Lonnie Moore; and GEP Cencast, the casting agency that handles background actors on the show. Howard says she had been a GEP employee since 2001.

The actress claims Moore subjected her to "a daily barrage of sexually based comments and unsuitable conduct" while working on the show, including statements such as "I'm married but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun," "Are you wearing thongs today or nothing at all?" and "It's just sex; stop being so uptight and give me some."

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Howard also claims she was subjected to physical harassment. "There were many times when Moore caught plaintiff off guard, he was thus able to 'cop a feel' before plaintiff could push him away," the complaint alleges.

She claims she complained to superiors in October and was told she had done the right thing by coming forward. But she almost immediately began receiving a cold shoulder from other actors, she claims, and was subjected to retaliatory and confrontational conduct.

Her work declined from five days per week to an average of two days a week, according to the suit, and in late November, Howard says she had a meeting with Warner Bros. attorney Patty Mayer during which she was told the harassment claim had been investigated and the matter was closed. By late April/early May, Howard claims she was no longer being called to work on The Mentalist and was not being offered any other work by GEP; "plaintiff's employment with GEP and Warner Bros. has thus effectively been terminated," she alleges.

Warner Bros. TV declined to comment on the suit. UPDATE: Warner Bros. has issued the following statement:

"When Warner Bros. Television received notice of Ms. Howard’s concerns, we promptly and fully investigated all allegations to protect her rights as well as those of others working on the production and at the workplace.  The company took prompt remedial action in compliance with state and federal law as well as company policy.  Additionally, there is simply no merit to Ms. Howard’s claim that her work as a stand-in/background performer was reduced or that she was otherwise mistreated because of her allegations." 

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The complaint, filed by attorney Stephen Ebner, alleges causes of action for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, failure to take remedial action and retaliation. 

CBS is not a defendant in the suit.

Email: Matthew.Belloni@thr.com; Twitter: @THRMattBelloni