Allegations from multiple women who accuse Tavis Smiley of sexual harassment are front and center of his breach of contract trial with PBS that started this week in Washington, D.C.
The former talk show host alleges he did nothing wrong. However, PBS, his former employer, canceled his show in 2017, took the side of female employees, Smiley’s subordinates, who claim he made inappropriate comments about their body parts. The accusers also claim he told lewd jokes. Other allegations are that he threatened to end the career of one of them if she tried to end a relationship with him, according to The Washington Post.
Smiley, 55, denies the claims and says PBS broke their contract with him without any proof of the allegations.
“PBS failed to keep their promise and did this man wrong. That is what the evidence is going to show,” Smiley’s attorney Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. told jurors as Smiley sat a short distance away at a table, reported The Washington Post.
During his opening statement, Sullivan told jurors that Smiley is a “single man who has spent 30 years in the TV business” and that he has had “consensual” relationships with women with whom he worked.
“Look at him,” Sullivan instructed jurors as he stood behind Smiley and placed his hands on the talk show host’s shoulders, reported The Post. “Any suggestion that this man would be involved in harassing women would be ludicrous.”
Grace Speights, PBS attorney, countered that Smiley repeatedly violated his contract by engaging in relationships with his subordinates and harassing women who worked for him.
“This case is about trust and broken promises,” Speights said in court. “PBS trusted Mr. Smiley, and that trust turned out to be misplaced.”
Speights told jurors that Smiley was fully aware that PBS did not allow supervisors to engage in romantic relationships with employees when he signed his contract. Yet, she said, the company learned that Smiley was in a yearlong relationship with a female employee – information he withheld because he knew “a relationship between a manager and a subordinate would reflect unfavorably on himself at PBS,” Speight said.
The trial is expected to last two weeks and is taking place in D.C. Superior Court in front of Judge Yvonne Williams. PBS attorneys said they will call four women to testify against Smiley.