Tavis Smiley Sues PBS for Dropping Him Amid Sexual Harassment Claims

Smiley claims PBS used a sexual misconduct investigation as a pretext to get rid of him, but the network says the decision to suspend his show was justified.
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Tavis Smiley

Tavis Smiley is suing PBS for breach of contract after the network stopped distributing his show following sexual harassment allegations against him.

The pubcaster cut ties with Smiley in December, not long after it dropped Charlie Rose following misconduct allegations. At the time, Smiley told Good Morning America that PBS was wrong to shut down his show, and on Tuesday he filed a lawsuit seeking damages in the "multiple millions."

Smiley claims his 14-year relationship with PBS was tense, attributing the strain to a lack of financial support from the network and his unwillingness to "spend time hawking PBS-related merchandise or otherwise assisting with pledge drives." He also claims PBS was "racially hostile" and "hassled" him over booking African-American guests with controversial opinions, according to a 20-page complaint filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court.

In a statement, PBS said Tuesday the lawsuit is meritless and is Smiley's latest attempt to "distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace."

The former host admits that he had consensual relationships with colleagues, but maintains that they did not violate workplace policy. The sexual misconduct investigation, he claims, was merely an excuse for PBS to end its relationship with him.

"Based on this incomplete, trumped-up investigation, and in violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, PBS decided to use a technical provision in its contract with TSM to stop distributing Tavis Smiley — the only nightly television show featuring a person of color as the host," states the complaint. "With the relationship already having deteriorated, this allegation gave PBS executives a pretext to finally rid themselves of Mr. Smiley who was not the 'team player' type of African-American personality PBS preferred to have hosting a nightly national news and public affairs program."

Smiley is suing for breach of contract and tortious interference with business expectancy, and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

PBS' full statement is below, followed by a copy of the complaint.

"Today’s meritless lawsuit is yet another example of Tavis Smiley’s attempts to distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace.

As PBS has consistently stated, following receipt of a complaint alleging inappropriate conduct by Mr. Smiley, PBS hired an independent law firm to conduct an investigation. The ongoing investigation, which included a lengthy interview with Mr. Smiley, revealed that he had multiple sexual encounters with subordinates over many years and yielded credible allegations of additional misconduct inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS. That is what led PBS to the decision to indefinitely suspend distribution of Mr. Smiley’s program.

The notion that PBS’ decision to suspend distribution of the program was made for any reason aside from Mr. Smiley’s own behavior is ridiculous and false."

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