SAN FRANCISCO – The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether crude sexual language used by writers on the set of the hit comedy show "Friends" (search) should be considered sexual and racial harassment or constitutionally protected free speech.
Amaani Lyle (search), who worked as an assistant to the show's writers in 1999, sued the Warner Brothers studio and three writers on the show, claiming the writers' language and constant discussion of sex created an oppressive work environment. Lyle, who is black, also charged that the writers frequently mocked black people.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court agreed to consider the case.
According to court documents, the writers named as defendants in the case acknowledged using coarse and sexually vulgar language, but said it was part of the creative process of producing scripts for a show about sexually active young people.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed Lyle's suit in 2002, but it was reinstated after a state appeals court ruled that the defense's position was not strong enough to justify the dismissal.
"Within limits, however...defendants may be able to convince a jury the artistic process for producing episodes of 'Friends' necessitates conduct which might be unacceptable in other contexts," wrote Justice Earl Johnson, suggesting that the writers' claim of "creative necessity" could be a credible defense in the case.
Lawyers for the defendants pressed for an appeal to the state Supreme Court, warning that the appeals court ruling could have a "chilling effect" on other media.
In 1999, a divided court upheld a San Francisco judge's ruling banning repeated racial slurs in the workplace.