Tavis Smiley Admitted to ‘Multiple Sexual Encounters With Subordinates,’ PBS Says

Broadcaster fires back at show host’s lawsuit

Tavis Smiley

PBS has fired back against Tavis Smiley in Smiley’s lawsuit against the broadcaster, saying that the host admitted to “multiple sexual encounters with subordinates” prior to his show, “Tavis Smiley,” being pulled from the air by PBS.

In an answer to Smiley’s complaint filed this week, PBS said that in November, it received “a serious complaint from a former subordinate of Mr. Smiley, who reported that Mr. Smiley had engaged in inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct on multiple occasions.”

According to the answer, a subsequent investigation revealed “detailed accounts” of Smiley engaging in “inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct.” The accounts included Smiley’s “pattern of having sexual encounters with subordinates”; a “pattern of making unwanted sexual advances toward subordinates, including requests for specific sexual acts”; a “pattern of making inappropriate sexual jokes or lewd comments, including about subordinates’ body parts”; and a “pattern of creating a verbally abusive and threatening work environment, including that he aggressively cursed at and belittled subordinates.”

During a December 2017 interview with an investigator, Smiley admitted to some of the conduct, PBS said,  “including having multiple sexual encounters with subordinates”

After conducting multiple interviews, including with Smiley, PBS said that it “invoked its contractual right to suspend distribution of his show, ‘Tavis Smiley,’ ‘for any reason.’”

In a statement to TheWrap on Friday, a spokesperson for Smiley called PBS’s answer to his complaint “lies, half-truths and smears.”

“More lies, half- truths and smears from PBS from an ‘investigation ‘ that never should have happened, with a result that was decided well before the inquiry was even begun,” the Smiley spokesperson said. “We look forward to the full truth coming out in court.”

Smiley sued PBS in February, accusing PBS of acting in “a racially hostile manner” over the years.

“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,” the suit reads. “This was not an isolated incident but happened multiple times during the fourteen years PBS and [TS Media] were in business together.”

Smiley’s suit went on to say that, after the misconduct allegation arose, PBS launched an investigation that 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,” the suit read. “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.”

Smiley also accused PBS of dragging its feet in interviewing him, but in its answer this week PBS said that Smiley “finally agreed to sit for an interview without any conditions” on Dec. 12, 2017, “after PBS’s attorneys made it clear that, based on the interviews to date, PBS was inclined to suspend distribution.”

A PBS spokesperson called Smiley’s suit “meritless” in a statement to TheWrap, adding that Smiley is attempting “to distract the public from his pattern of sexual misconduct in the workplace.”

In December, PBS announced that it had decided to “indefinitely suspend” Smiley’s eponymous show, which he had hosted since 2004.

“Effective today, PBS has indefinitely suspended distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley,’ produced by TS Media, an independent production company,” a PBS spokesperson told TheWrap. “PBS engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley. This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.”

Smiley has denied engaging in misconduct.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.