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Lesson From CBS's Firing Of Dushku: Pay Attention To The Evidence

After actor Eliza Dushku complained of sexual harassment on the set of the TV show "Bull," CBS fired her. Moreover, according to a draft internal investigation report, a network lawyer released outtakes from the show in an attempt to discredit Dushku.

Those outtakes apparently show Dushku swearing. Unfortunately for CBS, they also captured evidence of the harassment she was complaining about.

The allegations

Dushku was initially hired to play a criminal defense attorney for three episodes, but there had been plans to offer her a full-time role on the show. However, Dushku claims that the show's star, Michael Weatherly, made several comments that made her uncomfortable. She confronted him and was immediately written off the show.

Interview notes from the internal investigation show that Weatherly once called Dushku "Legs" and made a joke that he would spank her. When Dushku held up three fingers for a scene, Weatherly commented that she must want a threesome. He also changed a line directed at Dushku from "step into my windowless van" to "step into my rape van."

Weatherly issued a statement saying he was mortified to have offended Dushku and now understands that his jokes were neither funny nor appropriate.

The effects

Since the outtakes apparently showed some of the harassment Dushku had complained about, they may have moved CBS to settle with the actor. The parties achieved a confidential settlement, although CBS confirmed an amount of $9.5 million to the New York Times.

It is quite unusual for an internal investigation report to be seen publicly, and for good reason. CBS employees who cooperated in the investigation were likely expecting their observations to be kept confidential. They may not be as willing to cooperate in the future.

Meanwhile, the internal investigation also allegedly revealed evidence of a cover-up by former CEO Les Moonves that would justify the withholding of his $120-million severance. If CBS plans to do so, it might explain why the report was leaked.

A lesson for employers

The network lawyer who released the outtakes was CBS's chief compliance officer, which raises some red flags. He would be expected to recognize that the outtakes contained evidence that ran counter to the network's position. He may have made assumptions instead of evaluating the evidence on its own merit. This may have contributed to what seems to be a serious culture of misconduct at CBS.

If your organization is evaluating a workplace discrimination claim, you owe it to your employee and the company to evaluate the evidence as objectively as possible. Address the issue as soon as you become aware of it so it doesn't balloon into a major workplace problem.

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