California sexual harassment claims against Oscar-nominated actor James Franco by former film students were recently settled for $2.2 million. The students allege that they were sexually harassed and coaxed into performing increasingly explicit on-camera sex scenes. They further alleged that as students at his film school, they were victims of fraud. Plaintiffs include one of five women who went on the record with the Los Angeles Times in 2018 to detail allegations of on-set behavior that was sexually exploitative or at least inappropriate.
Franco, 43, has denied the allegations repeatedly. But allegations of his inappropriate and possibly predatory behavior with young women were swirling even before the #MeToo movement gained traction. For example, in a 2014 Instagram exchange, he pursued a 17-year-old girl from Britain he’d met outside a theater, asking her about details of the hotel room where she was staying – even after he found out how old she was. When those messages later when public, he released a statement saying he was “embarrassed” and calling social media “tricky.”
In the most recent lawsuits, plaintiffs allege Franco set up his educational institute as a means to pursue young women and sexually exploit them. Those who cooperated with him were reportedly led to believe that doing so would land them roles in his movies. Plaintiffs allege the defendant coerced them during a “master class on sex scenes” into participating in sexual activity that was gratuitous while denying them protections actors and actresses would typically have as professionals with nudity riders. (Such riders protect film professionals from coercion and exploitation.)
According to media reports, two plaintiffs will receive about half of the settlement, while other students of Franco’s and the National Women’s Law Center will receive the rest. There are also a number of non-economic terms to which Franco has reportedly agreed, though those terms are under seal. Franco continues to deny plaintiffs’ claims, though released a statement indicating the plaintiffs “have raised important issues (about) the mistreatment of women in Hollywood.”
Indeed, sexual harassment continues to be problematic in all industries.
Sexual Harassment Pervasive in California
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, although there were nearly 7,000 sexual harassment claims made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a single recent year, only a small number of those who experience sexual harassment (1 in 10) ever formally report it. (EEOC figures are used as one measure because any workplace sexual harassment claim filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must first go through the EEOC or cooperating agency. Title VII isn’t the only way to file a claim, though. For example, California sexual harassment claims can also be filed through the the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA.)
A significant reason for underreporting is tied to fear of retaliation – a justified concern considering 71 percent of sexual harassment claims submitted to the EEOC in 2017 included allegations of retaliation. Other reasons include lack of the complaint processes or just simple embarrassment.
Retaliation can include things like:
- Reprimands or giving a performance evaluation that’s lower than it should be.
- Transferring the worker to a less desirable post.
- Verbal or physical abuse.
- Threats to alert authorities to immigration status.
- Higher scrutiny.
- Spread of false rumors.
- Make the person’s work more difficult.
- Blacklisting (particularly common in Hollywood).
If you have been victimized by sexual harassment and/or retaliated against because of it, our dedicated San Bernardino employment attorneys can help.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
James Franco Agrees to Pay $2.2 Million to Settle Sexual Misconduct and Fraud Lawsuits, June 30, 2021, By Azi Paybarah, The New York Times