A judge has ordered TV host Tavis Smiley to pay $2.6 million to the Public Broadcasting Service for having multiple affairs with his subordinates.
A Washington, D.C., jury found in March that Smiley had breached the morals clause in his contract, following a three-week trial. The jurors heard deposition testimony from six women who accused Smiley of misconduct.
The jury awarded PBS $1.5 million, which included costs and underwriting revenue for the last two seasons of Smiley’s talk show. But following the trial, the network argued that it should be entitled to additional damages under the morals clause.
Judge Yvonne Williams agreed, issuing a ruling on Aug. 5 awarding PBS $2.6 million. That includes $1.9 million in liquidated damages — the amount paid by PBS to Smiley’s company, TS Media, for the show’s last two seasons. The judge also awarded PBS an additional $702,898 that corporate underwriters had paid to Smiley’s company for those seasons.
PBS suspended Smiley’s show in December 2017, after hiring an outside firm to look into complaints of sexual misconduct. Smiley sued the network in February 2018, and PBS countersued. The jury rejected Smiley’s claim that PBS had violated his contract by canceling his show.
In her ruling, Williams also denied Smiley’s bid to reduce the jury award.
One woman testified at the trial that Smiley made numerous sexual advances. When she rebuffed him, he said, “I’m tired of you telling me no. I’m tired of you rejecting me,” according to her testimony. “I’m going to show you what happens to people when they reject me.”
The woman ended up leaving her job, and was paid $325,000 to resolve a sexual harassment complaint.
Another woman testified that she had a consensual relationship with Smiley. Once, when she turned him down for sex, he reminded her that he was her boss.
“I felt like my job was in jeopardy and that if I didn’t do what he wanted sexually, I would lose my job,” the woman testified.
The woman was later fired, and testified she believed it was because others in the office learned of the relationship.
Another woman was a paid guest on Smiley’s show. She said that she had “some intimate connections” with Smiley, but that he refused to have her back on the show after she turned him down for sex.
The three other women testified about Smiley’s use of crude language at work, his anger, his habit of yelling at subordinates, and other issues.
Update, Sept. 8: Smiley has filed a notice of appeal.