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Tavis Smiley Owes PBS $2.6 Million For His Sexual Harassment

In 2017, the Public Broadcasting Company (PBS) hired an outside investigator to look into allegations of sexual harassment against Tavis Smiley. Smiley had been a longtime broadcaster for the company. The investigation revealed decades of sexually offensive conduct, both through comments and physical conduct, directed at multiple women. One woman accused Smiley of intentionally creating contact “between his penis and her buttocks,” opening his door without pants and asking for a threesome. Smiley denied the misconduct allegations, including accusations that he retaliated against women who gave in to his demands or refused his demands. He did acknowledge having some consensual relationships with employees.

PBS terminated Smiley’s contract; Smiley responded with a lawsuit for breach of contract. PBS countersued for a return of $1.9 million in production expenses. On March 4, 2020, a Washington D.C. jury awarded PBS $1.5 million to cover costs and underwriting revenue from the last two seasons of Smiley’s show. The breach arose out of evidence that Smiley engaged in multiple affairs with his subordinates. Six women testified during the trial about Smiley’s sexually offensive misconduct. After prevailing at trial, PBS argued it should receive additional compensation for Smiley’s breach of his morals clause. The clause precluded on-air talent from engaging in public behavior that would negatively impact the employee or the network. The judge agreed. On August 5, 2020, PBS was awarded $2.6 million, which includes the $1.9 million in liquidated damages.