Talk-show host Tavis Smiley is suing PBS over claims the network breached his contract and hurt his production company when it fired him over sexual harassment claims late last year.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Smiley allege that his firing wasn’t just about the “trumped up” accusations of sexual misconduct, but that it was racially motivated, according to TMZ. PBS, which aired his show for nearly 14 years, pulled the plug on the late night program in mid-December after receiving what it called “multiple, credible allegations” of workplace misconduct by Smiley.
The network initially suspended the host, after which he admitted to engaging in romantic relationships with a few co-workers. He insisted the relationships were consensual, but this was no consolation to PBS. They terminated him later that month.
Smiley’s lawsuit claims the firing has cost his production company millions upon millions of dollars, forcing him to lay off about 20 of his employees. He also described an environment of racial tension at PBS, accusing the network’s head honchos of hassling “Mr. Smiley when he had African American guests who espoused controversial positions and effectively tried to stop any such guests from appearing,” The Washington Post reported.
“…I’ve spent the bulk of my career in public media, so filing a lawsuit against PBS was the last thing I wanted to do,” he told the paper in an interview Tuesday. “But litigation seems to be the only way to get at the truth.”
Network officials have called Smiley’s claims a “meritless” attempt to draw attention away from his “pattern of sexual misconduct.” Jennifer Rankin Byrne, the PBS vice president for corporate communications, insisted that the network took action against the host only after an independent investigation revealed that Smiley had “…multiple sexual encounters with subordinates over many years.”
Smiley’s behavior was “inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS,” so they canned him, Byrne said. For him to claim it was about anything else is “ridiculous and false.”