Eliza Dushku testified before a congressional committee on Tuesday about being “fired in silence” from the CBS series Bull, as she detailed her sexual harassment claims against co-star Michael Weatherly and then, after she complained, being let go from the series and forced into arbitration and a non-disclosure agreement.
The actress told members of the House Judiciary Committee that she was able to “break that silence” as she was responding to a congressional subpoena to testify.
“Countless others who are bound by arbitration are not so fortunate,” said Dushku, appearing virtually. She has gone public with some of her claims before.
The committee hearing was titled Silenced: How Forced Arbitration Keeps Victims of Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Shadow. It was held as lawmakers weigh new legislation to eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer and civil rights cases. The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on the bill on Wednesday.
In 2018, it was revealed that Dushku was paid $9.5 million to settle sexual harassment claims on the set of Bull that concerned Weatherly.
Although she was restrained by a non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement, she did disclose some details of her claims in an op ed in the Boston Globe that year challenging the network’s version of the events, as well as that from Weatherly and writer producer Glenn Gordon Caron.
Before the committee, Dushku went into great detail about her claims of what happened on the set of Bull. She said that in her first week on the job, she “found myself the brunt of crude, sexualized and lewd verbal assaults. I suffered near constant sexual harassment from my co-star. This was beyond anything I had experienced in my 30-year career.”
She didn’t refer to Weatherly by name in her opening statement, but detailed how he “frequently referred to me as ‘legs.’ He would smell me and leeringly look me up and down. Off script, in front of about 100 crew members and cast members, he once said that he would take me to his ‘rape’ van and use lube and long phallic things on me and take me over his knee and spank me like a little girl.” She said that another time “he told me that his sperm were powerful swimmers.”
“These were not lines in the script,” she said. “They were incessant and demeaning and and directed at me in the middle of what was supposed to be a professional workplace.”
Dushku said that she “feared that if I pushed back or reacted strongly, my job could be at risk, or my professional reputation could be harmed.”
After one incident, when she was doing a scene in which she delivered a courtroom monologue, Dushku said that her co-star “shouted out that he and his buddy wanted to have a threesome with me and began mock penis jousting while the camera was still rolling. Then, as I walked off to my coffee break between scenes, a random male crew member sidled up to me at the food service table and whispered, ‘I am with Bull. I want to have a threesome with you too, Eliza.'”
She said that the experience made her “physically nauseous.”
She said that she confronted Weatherly and “specifically asked him to be my ally on set and tone down some of the sexualized comments directed at me, especially since he set the tone at the workplace.” She said that he responded that “no one is more respectful of women than me. I grew up with sisters.”
Dushku said that she found out later that after their conversation, Weatherly texted the head of CBS Studios that she had a “humor deficit” and that “he didn’t want me on the show.” Although the executive, who she has previously identified as David Stapf, told Weatherly that she “made the show better,” she was “fired the next day.”
Dushku said that as she looked into her legal options, she found that the mandatory arbitration clause in her contract “would be used to keep what had happened to me a secret and would protect CBS and the sexual harassment perpetrator who had blatantly retaliated against me for trying to stop the harassment in my workplace.”
“I was shocked to learn that I signed away my rights to a public forum before taking a job,” Dushku said.
As The New York Times revealed the settlement in a December 2018 story, Weatherly responded with a statement to the Times in which he said, “During the course of taping our show, I made some jokes mocking some lines in the script. When Eliza told me that she wasn’t comfortable with my language and attempt at humor, I was mortified to have offended her and immediately apologized. After reflecting on this further, I better understand that what I said was both not funny and not appropriate and I am sorry and regret the pain this caused Eliza.” Dushku then argued that Weatherly broke the terms of the settlement and wrote the Globe op ed.
A CBS spokesperson declined to comment on Dushku’s testimony.
At the time, the network released a statement in which it said, “The allegations in Ms. Dushku’s claims are an example that, while we remain committed to a culture defined by a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, our work is far from done. The settlement of these claims reflects the projected amount that Ms. Dushku would have received for the balance of her contract as a series regular, and was determined in a mutually agreed upon mediation process at the time.”
Dushku told the committee that as her attorney pressed her claims, CBS handed over tapes “which included video of the actual harassment.”
“No other than my legal advisers at CBS has ever seen or will ever see those tapes,” she said. Later, she argued that if people could have seen the tapes, “accountability would have changed the outcome.”