Tavis Smiley has lost a bid to throw out PBS’ lawsuit that accuses him of violating his contract by having sex with his subordinates.
Smiley’s attorneys had argued that PBS was trying to punish him for behavior that long predated his current contract. But in a ruling on Thursday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams disagreed, finding that PBS had also claimed more recent misconduct.
“For example, PBS alleged that Smiley had ‘multiple sexual encounters with subordinates,'” the judge wrote. “In addition, Mr. Smiley made ‘unfavorable comments about PBS in television appearances.’ These allegations include misconduct that occurred during the 2015, 2016, and 2017 contract periods… In addition, PBS alleges that Mr. Smiley publicly lied during the 2017 contract term about a 2007 settlement agreement with a female subordinate, which violates the Morals Clause. Finally, the sexual relationship that Mr. Smiley had with his subordinate, Kimberly, who served as Executive Producer at TS Media spanned the relevant contractual periods.”
Williams held that the allegations are sufficient to go to a jury. A trial is currently scheduled for Feb. 10.
PBS canceled Smiley’s show after receiving a complaint of sexual misconduct in late 2017. Smiley sued the broadcaster in February 2018, accusing PBS of conducting a “sham” investigation and of dismissing him based on racial bias. PBS countersued, alleging that Smiley had violated his morals clause and had engaged in financial impropriety.
In October, Smiley’s attorneys filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to throw out the breach of contract claim. The motion — along with much of the evidence in the case — was filed under seal.
However, on Thursday, Smiley’s attorneys filed several hundred pages of documents which had previously been confidential. They include PBS’ investigative report, which details numerous accusations of sexual misconduct, bullying and other abusive behavior.
One woman told the investigator that Smiley refused to write a letter of recommendation for her unless she came to his house at 11 p.m. She refused. The same woman said that years later, she was invited to Smiley’s house. When she came to the door, he was not wearing pants. He asked her to have a threesome with him and a female employee who was naked inside the house. She declined and left. (The investigator was not permitted to interview the female employee.) The woman said that Smiley said things like “I hate women,” and “These women owe me because no one else will hire them.”
Another woman told the investigator that she had a sexual relationship with Smiley, despite her concern that it would hurt her career. Smiley assured her that it would stay a secret, but once word got around the office, she was fired. The woman said she believed Smiley had her fired because he was also sleeping with other women in the office.
The investigator also interviewed Smiley, who admitted to having relationships with some employees but denied allegations of misconduct. The investigator concluded that Smiley was not truthful, as his denials conflicted with numerous other witness accounts.
The court filing also includes excerpts from Smiley’s deposition, taken on July 12, 2019. In the deposition, the former host alleged that PBS had been looking for a pretext to get rid of him when the allegations were made.
“I further believe that when my friend, Charlie Rose, was fired, I believe that there were persons inside of PBS who thought that if Charlie is gone because of #MeToo, we can push Tavis out of here too under the guise of some #MeToo something,” he said. “And it’s the only way to explain how an investigation can be this sloppy. It’s the only way to explain that PBS could be so duped by some of the people they’ve been duped by.”
Update: On Friday, Smiley posted a statement on his Facebook page.
“A weak case you play in the press, a strong case you play out in a court of law,” he said. “I look forward to my day in court February 10, which I have finally been granted, after 2 years of fighting.”
Smiley’s own attorneys filed the documents, including the PBS investigative report, which were removed from the court docket on Friday morning.