The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed a discrimination suit against Disney and CBS Studios, alleging the companies allowed “Criminal Minds” cinematographer Greg St. Johns to get away with sexual harassment for 14 years.
According to the suit, St. Johns habitually touched men on the groin and butt, and kissed and caressed their necks and shoulders. The suit alleges that, over the years, more than a dozen men were fired for complaining about his behavior.
ABC and CBS co-produced the show, which ran for 15 seasons on CBS. St. Johns left the show after Variety reported in 2018 that crew members had repeatedly complained about his behavior, but that management had done nothing about it.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, names Disney, ABC Studios and CBS Studios as defendants. Also named are four executive producers on the show — Erica Messer, Harry Bring, Breen Frazier and Glenn Kershaw — and co-producer Stacey Beneville.
“Defendants’ executive team not only had actual and constructive knowledge of St. Johns’ abusive conduct, they condoned it,” the lawsuit states. “No necessary steps to prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination were taken over the years, nor were appropriate corrective actions. Instead, the executives fired anyone who resisted or who tacitly evaded St. Johns’ advances or abuse.”
The DFEH launched a systematic investigation in March 2019, after two former employees filed administrative complaints.
According to the complaint, St. Johns was given an “enhanced severance” when he was dismissed from the show in October 2018, in response to the Variety report.
“Defendants chose to act in conscious disregard of its employees’ rights by ignoring the complaints made by the crewmembers,” the suit states. “It was not until the media made St. Johns’ conduct public and threatened their image that defendants removed St. Johns from the show.”
The civil complaint states claims of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, violation of personal rights, and acts of violence.
“All people in California have the right to make a living free from sexual harassment,” DFEH director Kevin Kish said in a statement on Tuesday. “Companies and leaders who protect harassers and retaliate against those who complain violate the law.”
Update, 7:15 p.m.: ABC Studios says it intends to fight the suit.
“The Company works hard to maintain a work environment free from discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. In this instance the Company took corrective action. We cooperated with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing during its investigation, and we regret that we were unable to reach a reasonable resolution with the Department. We now intend to defend the asserted claims vigorously.”