Tavis Smiley’s Alleged Misconduct Detailed in PBS Countersuit

Tavis Smiley
Jim Smeal/BEI/REX/Shutterstock

PBS on Tuesday filed a countersuit against former talk-show host Tavis Smiley, seeking $1.9 million in salary and providing detail about the alleged misconduct that led to his show being canceled.

The move comes in response to a suit filed in February by Smiley against the public broadcaster. In that suit, alleging breach of contract, Smiley accused PBS of being “racially hostile” and inadequately supporting his show.

PBS suspended Smiley’s national talk show “Tavis Smiley” in December, as Variety reported exclusively, following an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct on the part of the host, who also produced the show through his company TS Media. The series was subsequently canceled.

The countersuit spells out four patterns of behavior on Smiley’s part that led to PBS terminating his contract, accusing him of “having sexual encounters with subordinates”; “making unwanted sexual advances toward subordinates, including requests for specific sexual acts”; “inappropriate sexual jokes or lewd comments, including about subordinates’ body parts”; and “creating a verbally abusive and threatening work environment, including that he aggressively cursed an belittled subordinates.”

According to the countersuit, the outside investigator hired by PBS to look into Smiley’s conduct after the public broadcaster received a complaint from a Smiley subordinate interviewed multiple witnesses who accused Smiley of inappropriate workplace conduct. The investigator also interviewed Smiley, who, according to the countersuit, said that he “‘probably’ told jokes in the workplace involving sex or sex acts, and he asserted that banter of that sort is more accepted among members of the African American community.” Smiley also admitted that he “may” have sent pornographic pictures to coworkers.

Smiley has repeatedly denied that he engaged in inappropriate workplace conduct, saying in his initial statement after the show’s suspension, “I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth. To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years.”

Smiley hosted “Tavis Smiley,” a half-hour interview program that aired weeknights on PBS member stations, beginning in 2004. The show filmed in Los Angeles and aired on WNET New York, KOCE Southern California, WTTW Chicago, WHYY Philadelphia, and other public television stations nationwide. PBS distributed the series, but dis not employ Smiley or any of his staff. The show, which was underwritten by sponsors such as Wal-Mart, has received four NAACP Image Awards.