Tavis Smiley must pay former employer PBS for violating morals clause, jury finds

A Washington, D.C. jury decided Wednesday that Tavis Smiley, who was fired amid allegations of workplace sexual misconduct, must pay about $1.5 million to his former employer, PBS.

The former television talk show host was dismissed by PBS following "troubling allegations" in December 2017 after the network said it had received multiple, credible allegations of misconduct by Smiley on his late-night interview show. 

At issue was the network’s “morals” clause, which bars romantic relationships in the office and also disallows employees from acting in a way that would impact the employee or network in a negative way.

Jurors heard testimony from six female employees who described misconduct claims. Smiley denied the allegations. The jury deliberated for about a day before reaching a verdict in the civil case.

PBS said in a statement to The Associated Press that the network was pleased with the jury’s decision.

“PBS expects our producing partners to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect,” the network said. “It was important for us to ensure that the courageous women who came forward were able to share their stories and that we continue to uphold the values and standards of our organization.”

The Time's Up Foundation responded to Smiley's verdict by thanking the women who came forward with their stories about the former NPR host's alleged inappropriate behavior.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to the six women who bravely spoke out about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Tavis Smiley. Because of their voices and determination, and PBS’s fight against harassment, today another jury believed the women and reinforced their right to a safe and dignified workplace in a history-making verdict," Tina Tchen, the president of the foundation, wrote in a statement. "We hope that all workers will take some comfort in the message this verdict sends on the heels of the verdict in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial: we are moving ever closer toward a world in which survivors will be believed, and perpetrators can be held accountable."

Smiley first sued PBS in D.C. Superior Court, contending that racial bias contributed to his dismissal and he was wrongly terminated without proof. The network counter-sued, arguing in part that Smiley owed the network for a season that didn’t air.

In a Facebook post at the time of his dismissal from the network, Smiley said he was "as shocked as anyone else by PBS’ announcement."

"I have the utmost respect for women and celebrate the courage of those who have come forth to tell their truth," he said. "To be clear, I have never groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately to any workplace colleague in my entire broadcast career, covering 6 networks over 30 years. Never. Ever. Never."

Smiley added that PBS "overreacted and conducted a biased and sloppy investigation, which led to a rush to judgment... trampling on a reputation that I have spent an entire lifetime trying to establish. This has gone too far. And, I, for one, intend to fight back."

An external investigator hired by PBS found allegations that dated back years and ranged from lewd jokes to unwanted sexual advances, a report revealed in January, which was unsealed in relation to the lawsuit surrounding his dismissal.

Smiley was on air with PBS for more than a decade, broadcast to more than 200 stations nationwide. Smiley, who is black, was the only minority to have served as the solo host in the history of the network, according to his lawsuit.

He was fired amid the wave of #MeToo reports of sexual misconduct in the workplace by powerful figures in movies, media and politics that began with allegations against Harvey Weinstein and also led to the departure of Smiley’s fellow PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Related:PBS external report details years of allegations against Tavis Smiley

Harvey Weinstein trial juror:'There is no message' on #MeToo movement with the verdict