Contracts must prohibit sexual harassment in the entertainment workplace.

It's a tragedy that the headline of this story even needed to be written.  But it did.  Desperately.

By now, we've all heard about the truly despicable behavior of some hollywood heavyweights. Men in power abusing that power to take advantage of, demean and humiliate women.

And we're learning just how persuasive this kind of thing has been throughout the entertainment industry.  Thanks to the courage and tenacity of a handful of prominent women in the business, the dirty little (big?) secret is out in the open.  And now, brave women everywhere are now standing up to be counted with a rallying cry of “#metoo”.

Now, I can't say I'm shocked at the fact that this kind of thing was going on.  The so-called “casting couch” has been a part of Hollywood folklore since the earliest days of the movie business.  (and the theatre, vaudeville, etc.)  What IS shocking to me is just how pervasive  this offensive abuse of power has been, even in the modern era.  I had no idea that it was still  happening to so many women, so often.

My heart hurts just thinking about it.

I was raised to respect women.  Respect, appreciate, support, encourage, empower, embolden them.  Yes.  Demean, abuse, assault, intimidate, coerce?  Hell no.

It's time for everyone in this business, men and women alike, to take steps to prevent this kind of thing from continuing.  Speaking out and denouncing the conduct is a good step, but actions speak louder than words. So, here's my call to action to all my clients, fellow lawyers, and to the entire community:

Every deal, every transaction, every business activity must,  from this day forward , confront the issue of sexual harassment head-on and include a provision declaring sexual harassment unacceptable, a breach of contract, and grounds for immediate termination.  

And,  we should go further, requiring of all our personnel, that they report any suspected sexual harassment they witness, on pain of termination.   Like this:

“Sexual harassment will not be tolerated and  is grounds for immediate dismissal.  If you are a victim or witness to suspected sexual harassment you should report it to the Producer immediately for investigation and corrective action.”​

​Such provisions have been common in below-the-line deals, crew deal memos, and the like, but they've largely been absent from the deals with Producers, Directors,  Designers, and Performers.  And those are the people with, and thus most able to misuse power.

Contracts used to include a so-called “Morals Clause”, which (theoretically )protected the studios and their business by allowing termination when they were subjected to scorn or negative perception as a result of employee's public acts, appearance, or behavior.  But these provisions have largely fallen out of favor over the past few decades for various reasons.  And, to my knowledge, these clauses were rarely invoked in cases involving sexual (mis)conduct. (at least where heterosexual conduct was involved).

But sexual harassment IS immoral, and it needs to have consequences.

So, it's time for a change.

We need to address this as a community.   Yes, talking about harassment is uncomfortable.  It should be.  We need to talk about this issue until it's no longer an issue.

“We need to talk about this issue until it's no longer an issue.”

All of our contracts need to explicitlyy say that harassment will get you fired.  No matter who you are.

If you're an employer, you need to implement a policy, and back it up by requiring adherence in all contracts.  And then, you need to actually enforce the policy.  Every time.  No exceptions, no retaliation against whistleblowers.

If you're an employee, you should expect a work environment that's free from harassment.  Not just harassment when you're a victim, but harassment of anyone, at any time.  That means it's incumbent upon each of us to stand up and say something, whenever we suspect harassment.

And finally, if you're a perpetrator of sexual harassment, STOP.    We won't look the other way ever again.

That's not the way we roll around here.  Not anymore.

One Response to Contracts must prohibit sexual harassment in the entertainment workplace.

  1. I don’t understand why there were apparently no EEOC complaints filed as a result of these reported incidents. When I was in corporate management for large companies, the mere threat of an EEOC sexual harassment complaint and resulting investigation was enough to make any manager behave. Has the EEOC gone out of business? Is the entertainment industry exempt from EEOC rules? Do women not know about the EEOC these days? One or two EEOC complaints and resulting investigations against a company is enough to put a stop to this type of behavior in that organization.

    I can understand why a woman may not want to report sexual harassment or assault to police because of the way defense attorneys treat them at trial. But I just don’t understand why a woman who went through one of these alleged harassments would not immediately file a complaint with the EEOC. Isn’t it illegal for an employer to retaliate in any way against a woman who has filed an EEOC complaint?

    Is it because actors are not employees. but independent contractors to production companies? If so, shouldn’t there be a push to have them covered under EEOC rules as employees?

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