An independent investigator hired by PBS to evaluate claims of sexual misconduct against Tavis Smiley has concluded that the former late-night talk show host was involved in sexual relationships with his employees and guests for decades. During that span, Smiley was also found to have verbally abused and sexually harassed those around him and may have fired women to keep word of his affairs from spreading.
The report was unsealed recently, due to an ongoing legal battle over Smiley’s dismissal from the channel, which ended its relationship with the prominent TV host back in 2018 after “multiple, credible” allegations of misconduct surfaced.
The back-and-forth between Smiley and PBS since then has been messy: Smiley sued the network after the Tavis Smiley show was cut, claiming the company’s sexual misconduct allegations were “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 countersued for nearly $2 million in production advances it wanted returned, claiming Smiley had broken the morals clause in his contract.
As Deadline reports, the independent investigation includes detailed accounts of the misconduct claims, including allegations that Smiley groped a woman’s buttocks during a photo session, and greeted a woman at his house without wearing pants, later inviting her to have a threesome with him and his executive producer.
A former employee alleged that Smiley asked her to lunch, and then asked about her bra size, offering a trip to Victoria’s Secret at The Grove. The woman was eventually laid off from the show and was allegedly told that she “knew too much” about Smiley’s actions, according to the report.
Several women interviewed for the report claimed consensual relations with Smiley, but said that the power differences made for an uneasy relationship. One guest on the show who was involved claimed she was not invited back despite submitting to Smiley.
Another producer on the Smiley show who had a sexual relationship with him was told that the relationship would be kept secret. However, she was terminated when others found out. She told the investigators that she believed other office sexual relationships played a role in her dismissal.
Still another accuser said Smiley asked her why she was “playing so hard to get” on a business trip.
Smiley has never denied that he had sexual relationships with his employees, but has insisted that all his interactions were consensual.
Defending himself on Tucker Carlson’s show in 2017, Smiley said, “I certainly understand that there are persons who believe that there is no such thing as a consensual relationship in the workplace...But there are other opinions on this.”
“Let’s face it, nobody’s working 40-hour weeks anymore. We are working 40-, 50-, 70-, 80-hour weeks,” he continued, “Where else are you going to meet people in this business?”
The sweep of the claims against him, however, clearly demonstrates how even consensual relationships can become toxic—and raise questions about abuse of power—when they happen in the workplace and when there’s a clear imbalance in status and tenure between the two parties.
Along with the report, Smiley was dealt a significant legal blow on Thursday, after a D.C. Superior Court judge refused Smiley’s request to dismiss PBS’ lawsuit. Smiley claimed the misconduct allegations against him happened prior to his current contract and thus invalidated the suit, but the judge disagreed, finding more recent incidents had been reported.
Updated: Friday, January 3 at 6:17 pm ET: Tavis Smiley, responding to the latest developments in his battle with PBS, posted a defiant message on social media Friday.
“A weak case you play in the press, a strong case you play out in a court of law,” he said. “I look forward to my day in court February 10, which I have finally been granted, after 2 years of fighting.”
We’ll see how that plays out, indeed.