According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the companies that produced the television drama “Criminal Minds” failed to address a sexually hostile work environment that went on for 14 years at the show. The DFEH, California’s main anti-discrimination agency, names not only the alleged perpetrator as a defendant in the lawsuit but also Walt Disney Co., ABC Signature Studios, CBS Studios, and the four executive producers of the show.
The suit alleges that the director of photography on the set of the long-running show subjected numerous crew members to groping, unwanted touching, and kissing over the course of 14 years. In order for the show’s executives to be held liable for his actions, they would generally have to have known or been in a position where they should have known about them.
Here, the allegation is that the executives had both “constructive” (legally assumed) but actual knowledge of the harassment. More than merely failing to address the issue, however, it is alleged that the executives actively assisted the cinematographer by firing people who resisted his abuse. Over a dozen male victims were allegedly fired at the man’s behest.
“With the aid of defendants, [the cinematographer] created an unchecked intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment on the set of Criminal Minds,” reads the lawsuit.
The suit seeks damages including back pay for those crew members who were fired in retaliation for their complaints. The cinematographer was removed from the set in 2018.
CBS, Walt Disney and ABC Signature Studios deny wrongdoing
A spokesperson for ABC Signature Studios told reporters that it plans to vigorously defend the lawsuit.
“The company works hard to maintain a work environment free from discrimination, harassment or retaliation,” the company said in a statement. “In this instance, the company took corrective action. We cooperated with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing during its investigation, and we regret that we were unable to reach a reasonable resolution with the department.”
It is unclear whether the studios and/or executives took any corrective action other than cooperating with the DFEH.
Employers have a legal responsibility to take effective action when they are notified of sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims. That generally means investigating the claim fairly and taking reasonable action to address the problem. Additionally, it is illegal under federal anti-discrimination laws to retaliate against people who make good faith complaints about discrimination or harassment.
If you have been suffering through a hostile work environment, you have legal rights. However, it is only too common for employers to retaliate against the messenger when they don’t like the message. Before you take any concrete steps to complain about the situation, talk to an experienced employment law attorney who can help you protect your rights while making a credible complaint.