Tavis Smiley was suspended from his hosting job at PBS last December after “multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS.” Today, he sued his former employer for breach of contract. From the Washington Post:
Talk-show host Tavis Smiley sued PBS on Tuesday, alleging that the network breached its contract and damaged his production company when it fired him in December over sexual-harassment allegations.
Smiley has been outspoken in his denials of PBS’s accusations. And so far, he appears to be the first of the many prominent media figures accused of sexual misconduct to take his counterclaim to court…
Smiley has acknowledged that he had romantic relationships with colleagues over his 30-year career as a speaker, TV host and author, but that these were always consensual. In his suit, filed in D.C.’s Superior Court, he claims that PBS used “trumped up” accusations to drop distribution of his program after years of infighting over the program’s funding, promotion and content.
His suit also asserts that some of the “tension” between PBS and Smiley, who is African American, was racial in nature.
PBS “has presented complaints and hassled Mr. Smiley when he had African American guests who espoused controversial positions, and effectively tried to stop any such guests from appearing,” his complaint says. “By contrast, PBS never raised editorial issues or hassled Mr. Smiley when he had white guests who espoused equally controversial positions (if not even more controversial).”
This strikes me as an attempt to smear PBS as racially biased. How exactly do you determine which views of various guests are more controversial than others on another topic? And what does this have to do with Smiley dating his subordinates anyway? Is he really suggesting that was just an excuse to fire him, not an actual thing PBS has a policy about?
In case you’ve forgotten, an investigation by PBS concluded Smiley had “engaged in sexual relationships with multiple subordinates.” Smiley denied any wrongdoing but admitted to a relationship with one former employee. A few days after the suspension he was appearing on ABC News to make his case and saying, “PBS made a huge mistake here. They need to fix this.” But in that same interview, he also had trouble remembering how many past flames still worked for him. That was about two months ago and PBS rejected his statement at the time saying, “Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight.”
The lawsuit doesn’t ask for any specific amount of money in damages but claims his production company has lost millions and been forced to lay off a number of employees. A spokesman for PBS told the Post the lawsuit was an attempt, “to distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace.” I don’t know if that’s true but assuming the lawsuit doesn’t succeed in making PBS back down, I don’t think this is going to help him find a job someplace else in the current #MeToo environment.