Sex harassment sesh on hold

The casting couch was in the spotlight Saturday, as part of daylong symposium on sexual harassment in the workplace held at the Directors Guild.

“Sexual Harassment in the Entertainment Industry, Part II: Hot Issues Today” was sponsored by the DGA, Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild of America. It attracted more than 100 industry members to workshops defining sex harassment, outlining prevention measures and entertainment union positions, and exploring legal and psychological ramifications.

Unions officials were on hand to handle individual concerns.

Panelists described sexual harassment as an issue of the misuse of power; examples cited ranged from a video distribution house that decorated its walls with exercise video posters, to the exchange of sexual favors for career advancement.

In curbing sexual harassment, the entertainment industry faces unique problems — because the wide use of independent contractors makes monitoring difficult, and because the business sometimes requires or allows behavior that in traditional work environments would be deemed inappropriate, such as acting or dressing sexily for auditions.

“Hollywood is not exempt from the laws that everyone else lives by and is one of the worst offenders,” said Sony Pictures Entertainment labor counsel Jennifer A. Rubin.

Solutions discussed included posting or mailing company and union sexual harassment policies and complaint procedures to employees and members, and educating through company seminars or one-on-one dialogues.

“The casting couch has been around for 1,000 years and actors have to be able to come to the agent to discuss incidents of it,” said agent Nina Blanchard. Despite their monetary stake in the pending job, “it’s important that agents are willing to pick up the phone to make a complaint.”

Panelists and workshop leaders included a host of attorneys, union officials, psychologists and studio and network reps.

Sheila James Kuehl, the co-founder of the California Women’s Law Center, and Channel 2 reporter Saida Pagan were moderators.

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