TV Star Receives Massive Settlement from CBS for Sexual Harassment

What constitutes a hostile work environment?

Television actress Eliza Dushku, best known for her performance in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” recently received a $9.5-million-dollar settlement from CBS after filing claims of sexual harassment and wrongful termination.  Dushku had signed on to play a role in the new CBS series “Bull.” She starred in three episodes and the show planned to make her a full time cast member. Shortly after, Dushku claims that her co-star, Michael Weatherly, began to make her feel uncomfortable.  Our NYC employment discrimination lawyers discuss Ms. Dushku’s case against CBS and what exactly constitutes a hostile work environment below.

Sexual Jokes and Comments Created an Uncomfortable Work Environment

According to Ms. Dushku, Mr. Weatherly made several sexual comments about her in front of the cast and crew.  Weatherly was said to have commented on Ms. Dushku’s appearance and make a rape joke. He further talked of a threesome.  Dushku believed her co-star’s inappropriate behavior was contagious among the rest of the cast and crew, creating an uncomfortable and unhealthy work environment.

In an attempt to remedy the situation, Dushku spoke to the show’s writer and together they confronted Weatherly.  However, shortly after this conversation, Dushku was written off the show. She believed the act to be retaliatory, though the writer has denied as such.  She took action against CBS and entered into mediation. Investigations revealed some of Weatherly’s remarks caught on camera. Subsequently, Dushku was awarded approximately $9.5-million-dollar in a confidential settlement.

Hostile Work Environments Defined

Dushku’s claims against CBS rest on two central issues—the creation of a hostile work environment and wrongful termination based on retaliation.  Hostile work environment claims are often misunderstood. Sexual harassment claims in the work place can rest on two different types of harassment, hostile work environment or quid pro quo harassment.  

A hostile work environment is an environment created by an employer or coworker whose actions in effect make performing your job impossible.  The harassing behavior must be discriminatory in nature, which includes sexual harassment. The behavior must become pervasive and involve more than one remark.  Lastly, the conduct must be severe and disrupt the employee’s work. Examples of conduct that could be considered harassment and lead to creation of a hostile work environment include sexual jokes or teasing, displaying sexually suggestive pictures in the office, verbal abuse, use of sexually degrading words, sexual gestures, and the like.  Anyone who believes they have become the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace should consult with an employment discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.