In December, PBS suspended Tavis Smiley from his half-hour interview program due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Tavis was accused of sexual relations with “multiple subordinates” and “some witnesses interviewed expressed concern that their employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley.” Tavis was also accused of creating a threatening and verbally abusive work environment.
In an interview with Good Morning America on December 18, Tavis Smiley spoke out about the allegations, denying any wrongdoing, “I have never groped, I have never coerced, I have never exposed myself inappropriately.” He did admit to having consensual relationships in the work place and slammed PBS for never giving him a chance to prove the relationships were consensual. “PBS only agreed to talk to me after weeks of investigation, which they didn’t tell me about… PBS never informed me that a complaint was even alleged.”
Now, Smiley has filed a lawsuit against PBS for breach-of-contract. In response, according to the Associated Press, PBS filed a counter-suit. The network claims more witnesses have come forward, including women of color, which to PBS’ legal team means a win, “Many of the witnesses were women of color, the documents say, pushing back against comments from Smiley, who is Black, that racial bias was involved in his firing.” However, Smiley always maintained he didn’t even know who the accusers were. Allegedly, PBS didn’t talk to any of his current staff.
Nonetheless, the AP reports, “The witnesses spoke to an independent investigator and corroborated initial accounts that Smiley had established a pattern of sexual relationships with subordinates. The filing Tuesday also said he subjected subordinates to unwanted sexual advances — including requests for specific sex acts — and made lewd jokes.”
Smiley and his team responded by telling the AP, “More lies, half- truths and smears from PBS from an ‘investigation’ that never should have happened, with a result that was decided well before the inquiry was even begun.”
Smiley is seeking “multiple millions” in damages. PBS is seeking $1.9 million in returned salary from Smiley.
Sounds like this lawsuit is going to get even uglier. However, if PBS wants to promote that they have “women of color” witnesses, they next question will be — will they go public with their story?