Tavis Smiley must pay $1.5 million to PBS following #MeToo lawsuit, firing

A jury officially decided that former PBS host Tavis Smiley will have to pay about $1.5 million to his former employer after he was fired amid allegations of workplace sexual misconduct.

Smiley was suspended in December 2017. The network ultimately removed him after several credible allegations of misconduct came to light at the height of the #MeToo movement, which saw several powerful people in show business and politics lose their positions as accusers felt emboldened to come forward.

Smiley first sued PBS in D.C. Superior Court, contending that racial bias contributed to his dismissal and he was wrongly terminated without proof. He acknowledged having romantic relationships with colleagues over his career, but says they were consensual. He sought $1 million. The network counter-sued, arguing in part that Smiley owed the network for a season that didn't air.

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He was on air with PBS for more than a decade, broadcast to more than 200 stations nationwide. Smiley, who is black, was the only minority to have served as the solo host in the history of the network, according to his lawsuit.

At issue was the network's “morals” clause, which bars romantic relationships in the office and also disallows employees from acting in a way that would impact the employee or network in a negative way.

Jurors heard testimony from six female employees who described misconduct claims. Smiley denied the allegations. The jury deliberated for about a day before reaching a verdict in the civil case.

Former PBS host Tavis Smiley will have to pay $1.5 million to the network, a jury has decided. 

Former PBS host Tavis Smiley will have to pay $1.5 million to the network, a jury has decided.  (Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

Smiley's attorneys said they would appeal. “We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict but respect the process," said attorney John Rubiner.

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PBS later said in a statement the network was pleased with the jury's decision.

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

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During the wave of #MeToo reports, Smiley’s fellow PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose departed the network over similar allegations. The slew of accusers coming forward is largely credited with shifting into the mainstream after now-disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of misconduct in a pair of bombshell exposes in 2017. Weinstein has since been convicted of rape and sexual assault in New York City.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.