The California Department of Housing and Fair Employment is suing Disney and CBS over alleged rampant sexual harassment on the set of “Criminal Minds” that was condoned by management.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit claims that show cinematographer Greg St. Johns regularly touched men on their groins and behinds, and kissed their necks and shoulders.
Besides targeting the companies, the complaint names four show executive producers: Erica Messer, Harry Bring, Breen Frazier and Glenn Kershaw, as well as co-producer Stacy Beneville.
It says that management encouraged St. Johns by retaliating against people who filed complaints about his sexual harassment. But he was finally dismissed after a 2018 report in Variety about his predatory conduct.
“Defendants’ executive team not only had actual and constructive knowledge of St. Johns’ abusive conduct, they condoned it,” the complaint states. “No necessary steps to prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination were taken over the years, nor were appropriate corrective actions. Instead, the executives fired anyone who resisted or who tacitly evaded St. Johns’ advances or abuse.”
“Defendants chose to act in conscious disregard of its employees’ rights by ignoring the complaints made by the crew members,” the state’s complaint alleges. “It was not until the media made St. Johns’ conduct public and threatened their image that defendants removed St. Johns from the show.”
The complaint charges the show with violations of state law that include prohibitions against sexual harassment and retaliation for complaints.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces state civil rights laws, launched an investigation after two former employees filed complaints with the agency.
The Department says it is seeking monetary damages for “all production employees who were subjected to harassment “ in violation of the “the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Ralph Civil Rights Act, and Civil Code section 51.9, which prohibits sexual harassment in business, service, and professional relationships.”
“All people in California have the right to make a living free from sexual harassment,” DFEH Director Kevin Kish said. “Companies and leaders who protect harassers and retaliate against those who complain violate the law.”
In a May 27 statement in response to the lawsuit, Disney offered what might be called the classic non-denial denial. The entertainment giant didn’t really dispute the charges but implied they were unfair and would now contest them.
“The Company works hard to maintain a work environment free from discrimination, harassment or retaliation. 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. We now intend to defend the asserted claims vigorously.”