A jury in Washington, D.C. found that liberal luminary and former PBS host Tavis Smiley had breached the morals clause in his contract with the publicly funded broadcaster and ordered that he pay the outlet $1.486 million.
Smiley, the former host of PBS's Tavis Smiley and PRI's The Tavis Smiley Show, was indefinitely suspended from PBS in December 2017 following allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2018, Smiley sued PBS for wrongful termination and then the media outlet counter-sued, charging that Smiley had violated the morals clause in his contract.
On March 4, the D.C. jury ruled against Smiley.
"At trial, PBS presented more than half a dozen women who spoke how they were pressured into relationships or had become the victim of unwanted advances," according to The Hollywood Reporter. "Smiley insisted the relationships were consensual, and the jury had to consider whether the morals clauses covered the conduct alleged."
"Adding to the complexity of the case, D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams previously ruled that Smiley's conduct dating back years and even decades was outside the scope of the contract," said The Reporter. "Nevertheless, the judge allowed the jury to hear from the women given claims that Smiley continued to have a sexual relationship with an executive producer on his show, publicly lied about a 2007 settlement agreement with a female subordinate and appeared on Facebook and ABC's Good Morning America to defend himself."
"On the witness stand, Smiley said the women's stories were filled with 'lies,'" said The Hollywood Reporter.
During the trial, a marketing expert testified about PBS's brand "and how accusations against Smiley could tarnish the broadcaster's wholesome image," noted The Reporter. "Ultimately, PBS scored a big win, and it's a victory that may bolster morals clauses as a vehicle for companies to get out of contracts upon sexual misconduct claims."
In a statement, PBS said, "We are pleased with the jury’s decision. PBS expects our producing partners to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect. It was important for us to ensure that the courageous women who came forward were able to share their stories and that we continue to uphold the values and standards of our organization.”
One of the attorneys for PBS, Grace Speights, said, "With this jury verdict for PBS, companies now have another tool in their arsenal to ensure a safe and respectful workplace culture. Especially in the entertainment industry, the enforcement of the morals clause in contracts hadn’t been previously tested in courts. This decision could impact the next wave of litigation in the #MeToo movement.”
Tavis Smiley reportedly has not commented on the jury's verdict. In 2018, Smiley accused PBS of racial bias. In a statement then, PBS said, “Today’s meritless lawsuit is yet another example of Tavis Smiley’s attempts to distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace.”
Over the years, the liberal Smiley worked with the Tom Joyner Morning Show and hosted and executive produced BET Tonight (on Black Entertainment Television), a public affairs show. He also hosted programs on C-SPAN and National Public Radio (NPR). Smiley also wrote and/or edited numerous books, including The Covenant with Black America, which was a New York Times best seller.
Smiley was awarded the NAACP Image Award, he received several honorary degrees, was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and received the Du Bois Medal from Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.
Du Bois, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University, was a long-time apologist for socialism and communism. He officially joined the Communist Party USA in October 1961.