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James Franco’s Acting Students Allege Sexual Exploitation

Two former students of James Franco’s now-closed acting school filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that the classes existed principally to create a way for Franco and his associates to take advantage of young women.

Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal filed the class action complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court, saying that Franco and his partners “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.”

Franco and his business partner Vince Jolivette opened the Studio 4 school in 2014, with branches in New York and Los Angeles.

The suit alleges that the students paid $300 a month, thinking they were participating in a bona fide acting school. Instead, the women claim they were intimidated and sexually objectified, and found that those who were willing to disrobe in front of Franco and his friends were afforded special treatment.

“As Plaintiffs experienced and observed, Studio 4 served no other legitimate purposes other than to dupe unsuspecting and often very young ‘students’ out of their money and talent to serve Defendants’ financial and exploitative desires,” the suit states.

As part of the school, Franco taught a “master class” on sex scenes, according to the complaint. In auditions for the master classes, the students were pressured to engage in sexual activity that went well beyond the industry norm, the plaintiffs allege. The auditions were taped, and Franco would review the tapes to see who would be allowed into the class.

Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, said that Franco will seek damages against the plaintiffs and their attorneys for bringing a “scurrilous” lawsuit.

“This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked,” Plonsker said. “We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed Complaint in depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity seeking lawsuit.”

The complaint states claims of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, fraud, and false advertising. It seeks to establish two plaintiff classes: one for students who were sexually exploited, and a second for all Studio 4 students, who the suit claims were all defrauded. The class action attorneys, at the firm of Valli Kane & Vagnini, are looking for additional students to come forward to participate in the suit.

Tither-Kaplan is one of five women who came forward with allegations against Franco in a January 2018 article in the Los Angeles Times. Franco’s attorney denied the allegations at the time.

Franco stars on the HBO show “The Deuce,” now in its third and final season. David Simon, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, has previously said that no complaints have been lodged against Franco in connection with the show.

“In our experience, he was entirely professional as an actor, director, and producer,” Simon said last year.

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