Smiley sued PBS in February 2018, alleging that the broadcaster had used a sham investigation as a pretext to cancel his show. PBS countersued, claiming that Smiley’s sexual conduct constituted a breach of their contract.
The jury began deliberating on Monday, and issued its verdict in favor of PBS on Wednesday morning. PBS will be awarded at least $1.5 million. The D.C. Superior Court judge will have to determine the total amount of damages.
“We are pleased with the jury’s decision,” a PBS spokesperson said in a statement. “PBS expects our producing partners to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect. It was important for us to ensure that the courageous women who came forward were able to share their stories and that we continue to uphold the values and standards of our organization.”
The jurors heard evidence over the last three weeks, including deposition videos of six women who accused Smiley of misconduct. One woman who accused Smiley of sexual harassment left the show and received a $325,000 settlement.
PBS alleged that Smiley’s conduct posed a clear breach of his morals clause. After receiving a complaint in November 2017, the network hired an investigation firm. The network suspended the show in December 2017.
“PBS had the morals clause in order to protect its brand from the mess he caused from having these relationships in the workplace,” argued PBS’ lead attorney Grace Speights. “He knew all this stuff might tend to bring disrepute to him and PBS.”
After the revelation, Smiley went on “Good Morning America” to defend his conduct. He said that his company, TS Media, did not forbid office sexual relationships, and that he never weighed in on employment decisions. “I never gave any favoritism upward or downward,” Smiley said.
The PBS investigative report concluded otherwise, documenting claims from women who felt coerced into sexual conduct, and from some who believed they later faced retaliation.
“He lied, in our view,” Speights argued. “In the midst of the #MeToo movement, he violated our morals clause… You can’t have a consensual relationship between a manager and a subordinate because of the power dynamic. It’s never consensual because that manager has power over all aspects of that person’s employment.”
PBS accused Smiley of breaching contracts for 2015, 2016 and 2017, and sought to recoup payments from 2015 and 2016. Smiley had accused PBS of wrongfully withholding payments on the 2017 contract. Smiley did not comment following the ruling.
Tina Tchen, the CEO of the Time’s Up Foundation, issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon praising the women who spoke out against Smiley.
“Because of their voices and determination, and PBS’s fight against harassment, today another jury believed the women and reinforced their right to a safe and dignified workplace in a history-making verdict,” Tchen said. “We hope that all workers will take some comfort in the message this verdict sends on the heels of the verdict in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial: we are moving ever closer toward a world in which survivors will be believed, and perpetrators can be held accountable.”