In December, PBS announced that it had suspended the distribution of Tavis Smiley's talk show in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against the broadcaster. Variety reported that multiple Smiley staffers believed their jobs and promotions were dependent on sexual relationships with Smiley and some said his behavior created a threatening workplace environment.
Shortly after the announcement, Smiley appeared on Good Morning America and claimed that PBS did not have the grounds for cutting the show. Then, in early February, he went on a five-city tour to speak about workplace harassment. Now, the Washington Post is reporting that Smiley has sued the network.
Smiley claims that PBS breached its contract when they chose to suspend his show. He contends that PBS never presented him with the names of the accusers or shared any specific details about the investigation that led to his termination.
"I’ve spent the bulk of my career in public media, so filing a lawsuit against PBS was the last thing I wanted to do," Smiley says. "But litigation seems to be the only way to get at the truth."
Smiley does admit that he had romantic relationships with co-workers during his time as a TV host, but he says the interactions were always consensual. His lawsuit claims that PBS "trumped up" accusations before cutting the show. Smiley says his production company lost millions of dollars due to the suspension, forcing him to lay off around 20 employees.
He also claims that there was racial tension between himself and the PBS. The lawsuit states that the network has "presented complaints and hassled Mr. Smiley when he had African American guests who espoused controversial positions, and effectively tried to stop any such guests from appearing. By contrast, PBS never raised editorial issues or hassled Mr. Smiley when he had white guests who espoused equally controversial positions (if not even more controversial)."
PBS responded to Smiley's claims by releasing a statement that refers to the lawsuit as "meritless" and says Smiley is attempting "to distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace." The network explains that they made their decision after hiring an independent law firm to conduct the investigation, which included an extensive interview with Smiley.
PBS says their investigation revealed that he had "multiple sexual encounters with subordinates over many years and yielded credible allegations of additional misconduct inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS."