Tavis Smiley Violated Morals Clause, Must Pay PBS $1.5M, Jury Finds

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Written by Ann Brown
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Some frisky business has landed longtime talk show host Tavis Smiley, formerly of PBS, in hot water to the tune of $1.5 million. Author and former talk show host Tavis Smiley is preparing for his day in court amid an unsealed report that doubles down on multiple sexual harassment allegations against him. In this photo, Smiley speaks at Book Expo America, Thursday, May 29, 2014 in New York. His book, “Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,’s Final Year,” is to be published by Little, Brown and Company in September. BEA is an annual book trade fair attended by publishers, authors, librarians, and book retailers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Some frisky business has landed longtime talk show host Tavis Smiley in hot water to the tune of $1.5 million. A jury has decided that Smiley violated a morals clause and must now pay PBS $1.5 million. It was actually Smiley who brought the case to court, claiming that “the network weaponized its morality clause against him; PBS counterclaimed that multiple, credible accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment made his employment at PBS untenable,” The Root reported.

The case was finally settled following his 2017 firing after multiple allegations of misconduct.

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“PBS accused Smiley of breaching contracts for 2015, 2016 and 2017, and sought to recoup payments from 2015 and 2016. Smiley had accused PBS of wrongfully withholding payments on the 2017 contract. Smiley did not comment following the ruling,” Variety reported.

“Smiley sued his former employer in D.C. Superior Court, alleging he was wrongly terminated and claimed racial bias was a factor. PBS counter-sued and said Smiley owed them for the season of his show that never aired due to his dismissal,” The Grio reported.

But he didn’t prove victorious. Instead, according to The Hollywood Reporter, jurors in the Washington, D.C., case after hearing from six female employees who alleged misconduct including found Smiley guilty of violating the network’s morals clause. The women claimed Smiley had a sexual relationship with an executive producer on his talk show as well as publicly lied about a 2007 settlement agreement with a female subordinate for $325,000.

Over a three-week period, the women who testified said they felt they had no recourse for addressing their boss’s behavior, reported NBC.

Smiley, however, testified on the stand that the women’s stories were filled with “lies.” And he claimed that people often date a workplace colleague. 

“PBS expects our producing partners to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect,” the network said in a statement. “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.”

Morality clauses are standard in contracts with on-air talent.

Following the decision, the former PBS host appeared on “Good Morning America” to defend his actions. He claimed that his company, TS Media, did not forbid office sexual relationships and that he never weighed in on employment decisions.