Court to rule on future of ‘Friends’ suit

Lyle's petition to review decision declined

California’s Supreme Court will review a recent appeals court decision that reinstated a sexual and racial harassment suit filed by a former “Friends” employee.

At the same time, the state high court declined to grant a petition by Amaani Lyle to review the appeals court’s decision not to pursue her claim that she was fired by the show because of her race and gender.

Rulings were the latest in the ongoing Lyle case. She briefly served as a writer’s assistant on the show in 1999. Lyle filed suit against Warner Bros. TV, producers Bright/Kauffman/Crane and writers Greg Malins, Adam Chase and Andrew Reich, arguing that the show’s writing room was rife with sexually explicit jokes, and that it constituted harassment.

Lyle also argued that she was unfairly terminated. Los Angeles County Superior Court dismissed her suit in 2002, but the 2nd District Court of Appeal reinstated the harassment charge last April (but declined to reinstate Lyle’s charge that she was fired because she was black and a woman).

First Amendment issues

Warner Bros. TV and the other defendants successfully argued to the state Supreme Court that it should rule on whether a verdict in favor of Lyle would violate the First Amendment and the California Constitution.

Lawyers for the defendants have argued that the sexually explicit jokes and storytelling were in line with the nature of “Friends.”

“If the show as broadcast contains sexual subject matter, then writers must joke about sex and write about sex,” said attorney Adam Levin. “Ms. Lyle admitted that no one ever directed comments at her, jokes about her, threatened her or propositioned her … Lyle’s complaint challenges creative discussions.”

Chilling effect

Levin argued that the harassment charge could present a chilling effect on workplace discussions that some might find offensive in nature, such as a newsroom debate or college discussion about potentially sensitive subjects. With that in mind, the defendants secured friend-of-the-court letters from entities such as the MPAA, California Newspaper Publishers Assn., the Los Angeles Times, Freedom Communications (publisher of the Orange County Register) and the California Law Employment Council.

The Writers Guild also submitted a letter signed by general counsel and prominent scribes Steven Bochco, Yvette Lee Bowser, Diane English, Norman Lear, John Wells and others.

The California Supreme Court will likely hear oral arguments by the end of this year on the case.

Attorneys for Lyle were unavailable for comment.

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