Attorneys for Kevin Spacey are seeking to throw out a $31 million arbitration award arising from his conduct on the set of “House of Cards,” saying his behavior amounted to nothing more than “sexual innuendos” and “innocent horseplay.”
The production company behind the Netflix show, MRC, won a confidential arbitration ruling against Spacey in 2020. The company had argued that Spacey owed them millions in lost profits because his misconduct forced them to remove him from the sixth season of the show, and it had to trim the season from 13 episodes to eight.
The judgment became public on Nov. 22, when MRC filed a petition in civil court to confirm the award. Spacey’s lawyers filed an opposition on Friday, asking the court to set the ruling aside. The attorneys argue that Spacey did not engage in sexual harassment and did not violate MRC’s anti-harassment policy.
“The truth is that while Spacey participated in a pervasive on-set culture that was filled with sexual innuendoes, jokes, and innocent horseplay, he never sexually harassed anyone,” the attorneys argued. “In fact, as the evidence established and the Arbitrator recognized in the Award, the few times Spacey was told that his conduct made someone feel uncomfortable or was in any way unwanted, he stopped.”
Spacey was first accused of misconduct in a Buzzfeed article on Oct. 29, 2017, in which actor Anthony Rapp alleged that Spacey had made a sexual advance in 1986, when Rapp was 14. Production on “House of Cards” was suspended two days later. Two days after that, CNN published a story accusing Spacey of creating a “toxic” environment on set by making crude comments and engaging in non-consensual touching of young male staffers.
According to the opposition filing, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos sent an internal email within hours of publication of the CNN story, in which he said, “Let’s announce tomorrow that there is NO scenario in which Kevin Spacey will appear in any version of a final season of the show.”
Sarandos also decided to cancel a film, “Gore,” which Spacey produced and starred in, and which was then in post-production.
The arbitrator viewed videotaped deposition testimony from “House of Cards” crew members, and found that Spacey violated MRC’s sexual harassment policy with respect to five of them. But according to Spacey’s lawyers — Stephen G. Larson and Jonathan E. Phillips — that conduct was not part of the CNN story, and only came to light after a subsequent internal investigation.
They argue that MRC’s move to scrap two episodes that had already gone into production and start over was forced by Sarandos’ decision on Nov. 2. Therefore, they contend, the damages MRC ultimately suffered could not have been caused by the alleged misconduct that surfaced later on.
“As the Arbitrator recognized, the reduction in episodes was a foregone conclusion once Netflix dictated to Petitioners that Spacey could not and would not be a part of Season 6,” the attorneys argued. “But what the Arbitrator ignored is that the conduct he found to be in breach of the Agreements was not even known by Netflix at the time it made this decision. In other words, the breaches found by the Arbitrator could not have been related to Petitioners’ damages because those damages had already been caused by the time the breaching conduct was known.”
Courts tend to show near total deference to arbitration proceedings, so Spacey faces an uphill fight in seeking to set aside the arbitrator’s findings. His attorneys argue, however, that the award must be vacated because there is no rational relationship between the alleged breaches and MRC’s damages. The arbitrator’s ruling remains under seal.