It’s been more than two months since PBS fired Tavis Smiley after an investigation into “multiple, credible allegations” allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. Today, the veteran talk-show host hit back.
Smiley filed a lawsuit against the pubcaster today, claiming that the axing breached his contract and damaged his company — and that PBS executives used the case as “a pretext to finally rid themselves of Mr. Smiley, who was not the ‘team player’ type of African American personality PBS preferred to have hosting a nightly national news and public affairs program.”
A PBS spokesperson dismissed his suit as “meritless” and “yet another example of Tavis Smiley’s attempts to distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace.” (Read the full statement below.)
PBS said in December that its inquiry into Smiley, who had fronted the L.A.-produced late-night talker Tavis Smiley for nearly 14 years, “uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS.”
Smiley disagrees, and had been pleading his case in the media. Now te suit filed in D.C. District Court offers his take on why he was let go: racial “tension” involving “the only nightly television show featuring a person of color as the host.”
“Over the years, PBS has acted in a racially hostile manner,” the suit says. “For example, PBS harassed Mr. Smiley about inviting controversial African American figures on to his show. However, when Mr. Smiley brought equally controversial (if not more so) white figures, PBS remained silent. This was not an isolated incident but happened multiple times during the fourteen years PBS and TSM were in business together.”
Smiley also calls out what he believes to be a “poorly executed and incomplete” investigation on the pubcaster’s part.
“After receiving an allegation that Mr. Smiley had engaged in some type of unidentified misconduct, PBS asked its legal counsel to perform an ‘investigation’ that would show Mr. Smiley had engaged in misconduct,” the suit reads. “The ‘investigation,’ however, was poorly executed and incomplete. Based on this incomplete, trumped-up investigation, and in violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, PBS decided to use a technical provision in its contract with TSM to stop distributing Tavis Smiley – the only nightly television show featuring a person of color as the host. With the relationship already having deteriorated, this allegation gave PBS executives a pretext to finally rid themselves of Mr. Smiley, who was not the ‘team player’ type of African American personality PBS preferred to have hosting a nightly national news and public affairs program.”
PBS issued a statement through a spokesperson today that focused on the sexual-misconduct allegations against him:
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.
As PBS has consistently stated, following receipt of a complaint alleging inappropriate conduct by Mr. Smiley, PBS hired an independent law firm to conduct an investigation. The ongoing investigation, which included a lengthy interview with Mr. Smiley, 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. That is what led PBS to the decision to indefinitely suspend distribution of Mr. Smiley’s program.
The notion that PBS’ decision to suspend distribution of the program was made for any reason aside from Mr. Smiley’s own behavior is ridiculous and false.
The suit, whose plaintiffs also include Smiley’s TS Media Inc. and Tavis Smiley Presents, demands a jury trial.