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Tavis Smiley Hits PBS with Lawsuit Amid Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

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(Jan. 8, 2011 - Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America
Talk show host Tavis Smiley speaks during the ‘Tavis Smiley’ panel at the PBS portion of the 2011 Winter TCA press tour held at the Langham Hotel on January 9, 2011, in Pasadena, California.

*Tavis Smiley’s PBS series was pulled from the air in December after he was hit with accusations of misconduct. Now the media personality has filed a lawsuit against the broadcaster, according to court docs obtained by TheWrap.

In the suit, Smiley accuses of PBS of acting in “a racially hostile manner” over the years.

“For example, PBS harassed Mr. Smiley about inviting controversial African American figures on to his show. However, when Mr. Smiley brought equally controversial (if not more so) white figures, PBS remained silent,” the suit reads. “This was not an isolated incident but happened multiple times during the fourteen years PBS and [TS Media] were in business together.”

The suit goes on to say that, after the misconduct allegation arose, PBS launched an investigation that was “poorly executed and incomplete.”

“Based on this incomplete, trumped-up investigation, and in violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, PBS decided to use a technical provision in its contract with TSM to stop distributing Tavis Smiley – the only nightly television show featuring a person of color as the host,” the suit reads. “With the relationship already having deteriorated, this allegation gave PBS executives a pretext to finally rid themselves of Mr. Smiley who was not the ‘team player’ type of African American personality PBS preferred to have hosting a nightly national news and public affairs program.”

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Tavis Smiley
Tavis Smiley

The suit also says claims PBS was not diligent with its investigation and refused to provide names of the accusers.

“In fact, PBS had no intention of providing Mr. Smiley with an opportunity to defend himself because it had already decided that this allegation provided a perfect opportunity to rid itself of its tense relationship with TSM and Mr. Smiley,” the suit reads.

A PBS spokesperson called the lawsuit “meritless” in a statement to TheWrap, adding that Smiley is attempting “to distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace.”

“As PBS has consistently stated, following receipt of a complaint alleging inappropriate conduct by Mr. Smiley, PBS hired an independent law firm to conduct an investigation,” PBS’ statement continued. “The ongoing investigation, which included a lengthy interview with Mr. Smiley, revealed that he had multiple sexual encounters with subordinates over many years and yielded credible allegations of additional misconduct inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS. That is what led PBS to the decision to indefinitely suspend distribution of Mr. Smiley’s program.”

“The notion that PBS’ decision to suspend distribution of the program was made for any reason aside from Mr. Smiley’s own behavior is ridiculous and false,” the broadcaster’s statement concluded.

In December, PBS announced that it had decided to “indefinitely suspend” Smiley’s show, which he had hosted since 2004.

Smiley has denied engaging in misconduct.

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is an entertainment reporter with over 15 years of experience working in the film industry in areas including production and post-production, marketing, distribution, and acquisitions. She has worked for legendary film producer Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino's production team at Miramax, the late Larry Flynt, MTV/ VH1, Hallmark Channel, Paramount, Jim Henson Co., Parade Magazine, and various LA-based companies representing above-the-line talent.




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