A couple of weeks ago, a Deadline story about new Fox medical drama The Resident planning a sexual harassment episode was reposted on Facebook by ER doctor/TV writer Zachary Lutsky with the message, “Here’s an article on the new show I have been writing on for the last few months. Check it out,” followed by a smiley face emoji.
The post (you can see it below) quickly began circulating among Lutsky’s former TV colleagues who shared it in disbelief. Lutsky had been investigated for sexual harassment on his two most recent series, The Night Shift and Code Black, with the offenses on the latter deemed so serious that, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge, he was asked not to return to work after they were reported to HR.
Yet, The Resident producer 20th Century Fox TV did not know of Lutsky’s history despite requesting and receiving references on him. They are now taking a closer look.
“We have only recently learned of these allegations through an inquiry from a reporter,” the studio said in a statement to Deadline. “We are not aware of any claims made concerning his conduct on The Resident. We take these matters seriously and are reviewing this.”
The case highlights the issue of the confidential nature of sexual harassment allegations and investigations that cannot be shared with prospective new employers, allowing someone in Hollywood with a history of sexual harassment allegations to get job after job by moving from studio to studio.
“Any company that is advised by a labor lawyer has been told that as a best practice it should not provide any information about a former employee other than confirm dates of employment and last position held,” said leading Hollywood employment lawyer Adam Levin of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP. “It’s because of the risk of being sued or being held liable for defamation or interference with future economic prospects employment prospects or any other potential torts.”
Interviews with numerous former co-workers of Lutsky paint a picture of an ambitious guy, presenting himself as a married family man, who hustled his way into becoming a TV writer and has had issues in his interactions with crew and cast members on multiple shows. For fear of retribution and because sexual harassment investigations are kept confidential, victims and witnesses asked not to be named in this story.
“I am quite disturbed by these heartbreaking anonymous allegations,” Lutsky said in a statement to Deadline. “I take them very seriously and categorically deny them.”
Lutsky, an ER doctor at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who has made a number of TV appearances as himself on shows like Dr. Oz, and as an actor in TV series guest stints, got a foothold in the TV business with a string of jobs as a medical consultant/technical advisor at Warner Bros TV including on ER, Southland and Miami Medical.
Lutsky was able to break into writing by taking advantage of his job at Cedars Sinai. When well-known TV showrunner Neal Baer, also a trained medical doctor, went to the Cedars ER with severe gallbladder-related pain, Lutsky sought him out and introduced himself, telling Baer that he wanted to be a writer. Baer ended up having his gallbladder removed and, while in the recovery room, was visited again by Lutsky who handed him a script. The ballsy movie impressed Baer, who hired Lutsky on his new medical drama series A Gifted Man for CBS and CBS TV Studios, where Lutsky logged his first writing credit. He was not picked up for the series’ second season.
Lutsky then moved to Sony Pictures TV and did a multi-season stint on medical drama The Night Shift, where he was a writer/medical consultant and for the first time landed a producer title. According to multiple sources who worked with him on the Albuquerque, NM set of the show, he frequently invited crew and cast members to see the Jacuzzi in his room. While the sources stressed that he extended the invitation to both female and male staffers, multiple women who were propositioned in one-on-one conversations with Lutsky said that they thought the repeated invites crossed a line. “It was awkward and inappropriate,” a female crew member said. Another former Lutsky co-worker said a guest actress on the show, whom the person knows very well, had confided how Lutsky had tried to kiss her.
There also was an on-set incident that got Sony TV Human Resources involved. A female crew member was on-loading props when Lutsky walked by and allegedly smacked her on the behind with a rolled-up script. A witness reported it to the line producer. The line producer approached the female crew member, who did not want to file a complaint. The producer still reported the incident to HR and told the series’ creators/showrunners, Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah.
During the investigation, sources tell Deadline that the crew member claimed she had been tapped on the leg, not on the behind, and that she and Lutsky were friends so she did not perceive his action as harassment. Still, Lutsky was asked to apologize, which he did. Sony TV had no comment for this story.
After a two-season stint on The Night Shift, Lutsky moved to another medical drama series, CBS’ Code Black, from ABC Studios (leading studio) and CBS TV Studios, on which he also served as a writer/producer.
According to multiple sources, Lutsky’s tenure on the show abruptly came to an end on December 12, 2016 when two women working on the show went to a senior writer-producer to share harrowing stories of Lutsky’s constant — mostly verbal — sexual harassment. The producer immediately alerted Code Black creator/showrunner Michael Seitzman, who met with the women right away, then called HR. After the women were interviewed by HR, sources say there was enough evidence for the studio to immediately sever ties with Lutsky, who was informed that same day he would no longer be working on the show, nor would he be attending the wrap party, and his Disney badge was deactivated.
There are nuances surrounding Lutsky’s exit. When he was reported to HR, there were only a few days left until the end of the writers’ work on the series’ original 13-episode Season 2 order, which also would mark the end of Lutsky’s deal as a writer on the show that season. Code Black had been given a Back 3 order by CBS for three additional episodes. By then, sources said that Lutsky already had been told that he — along with several other members of the writing staff — was not going to be picked up for the additional three episodes ordered by CBS, which had been assigned to other scribes, though all writers were staying on through the end of their 13-episode contracts and he was continuing in his role as a medical consultant. Following HR’s interviews with alleged victims, ABC Studios ended Lutsky’s services on the show in all capacities, though he is not believed to have been formally fired since his contract was about to expire.
Conversations with people who worked with him on Code Black piece together a disturbing account of rampant sexual harassment that involved explicit comments to female crew members and background actresses.
“He made comments every day about my butt,” one actress said. “And then when he was talking to me, he wasn’t taking to my face, he would always talk to my boobs.”
There were also “statements about how large his penis was” that he made in the form of shoe and hand size jokes and anal sex talk among a constant barrage of sexual references, people who worked on the show with him said.
“He was pulling aside various women asking what turns them on and suggesting what turns him on,” one Code Black source said, with another adding that he also “showed a lot of attention to two background actresses.”
Deadline spoke with the actresses. “He would always seek us out on set and try to hang out with us,” one of them said. “He was definitely overly friendly and would text us outside of work. It was kind of inappropriate, he made comments here and there, talking how beautiful we were, how we look good in scrubs. It was definitely a little weird as he was a writer, he was way above us, and it was noticeable that he was trying to hit on us; it made it uncomfortable for us.”
Both actresses confirmed that Lutsky frequently asked them questions about their sexual history and sexual experiences and showed them sexually explicit photos. Both were adamant that the sexual references were only verbal and Lutsky never touched them.
“I never reported it to anyone,” one of the actresses said of Lutsky’s behavior, which she said happened in front of other people.
That was not the case with other women on the show.
“He was really calculated in how he did things — he would make advances off-campus, he would say things in private when no one could see or hear,” one person who worked with Lutsky on Code Black said.
Indeed, multiple sources said that much of the sexual harassment behavior happened behind closed doors, in the privacy of Lutsky’s office. He would repeatedly probe female co-workers about their sex lives, making lewd comments, and would not heed repeated requests to stop.
Witnesses reported of seeing him “demonstrate” a medical procedure on a female medical tech, which made people uncomfortable as it involved what could be construed as him inappropriately touching her in private areas. Sources on the show also recalled him walking around with breast implants, putting them on his chest and squeezing him. In both cases, he was asked to stop, people who were present said.
“I sincerely care for the feelings of everyone I encounter, including friends and co-workers, and I conduct myself in a way that treats all people with dignity and respect,” Lutsky said in his statement to Deadline. “True harassment allegations are serious. I have never engaged in, been fired for nor been found guilty of any allegation of misconduct — ever.”
Meanwhile, Lutsky told multiple writers, producers and crew members on Code Black a story about how he was examining a female patient in the ER when her husband walked in and asked Lutsky to stop. Multiple people who have heard the story directly from Lutsky said that he claimed the husband and wife filed an improper touching complaint against him — a charge he had denied when telling the story to his colleagues — for which he was brought before the hospital board. Cedars would not comment on whether any such charges had been brought against Lutsky.
Lutsky denied the incident in a statement to Deadline.
Despite repeated inquiries by Deadline, he would not explain why so many sources at Code Black said that he had told the story to them and whether he had made it up.
While he was not a direct supervisor to the women he allegedly harassed, Lutsky reportedly used his status as a producer on the show to intimidate them, sources said. He would tell low-level female crew members that the producers didn’t like them, portraying himself as an ally they were dependent on. He also allegedly suggested he could get them in trouble and even fired, if they didn’t listen to him.
“He does find your vulnerability and uses it,” said one of Lutsky’s alleged victims, who praised ABC Studios and the Code Black producers for handling the situation “remarkably well” with their swift actions.
A year later, Lutsky’s alleged victims still say they feel intimidated by him and some continue to be afraid to share their stories. With the pain from Lutsky’s torment still raw, some of them say they couldn’t believe when they saw his Facebook post earlier this month, which was touting a sexual harassment plot line while announcing his new TV series gig.
“I was appalled,” one of the victims said. “I think he lacks a responsibility and an understanding, or he is in such denial of his actions; that’s how he can continue to do it.”
And continue he did, landing a job as a medical consultant/writer/consulting producer on another medical drama at another studio he hadn’t worked at before, Fox/20th TV’s The Resident, which premiered last night.
But not before he got more money from Disney. Several months after Lutsky left Code Black, sources said he filed a grievance with the WGA, arguing that he had been involved in breaking stories for the three additional episodes, written by other writers, so he should be paid for them. The level of his involvement in there episodes has been questioned by some of his colleagues on the show, but the guild sided with him and joined him in pursuing Disney for money pertaining to his work on those episodes. The studio settled, reportedly paying him a five-figure sum, which some sources peg to be in the neighborhood of $15,000, strictly for additional writing services rendered on Code Black. Disney had no comment for this story.
According to sources, The Resident producers and 20th TV did vet Lutsky — who, as a writer and practicing doctor, fills a role that is in high demand on medical shows — before hiring him in early November, though Code Black was not among his prior shows they’d contacted. Even if they had, as attorney Levin noted earlier, someone’s sexual harassment record can’t be disclosed by a former employer because of a risk of litigation. Along with the studios, also not able to speak about sexual harassment incidents for contractual reasons or for fear of retaliation are the person’s co-workers, including the alleged victims.
“Women are victimized, and after the investigation is handled, there is no closure,” one of Lutsky’s alleged victims said. “You can’t tell anyone for fear of being sued of libel, and you can’t prevent them from going to another show at another studio. There is no way to prevent them from doing this again to someone else. Once (the case) goes through to the employer, it ends. That’s a thing that needs to change. Victims need to be protected, they need to have a way of discussing this with people, sharing their experience so it doesn’t happen again.”