Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A former "Friends" writer's assistant sues claiming sexual harassment; writers claim "creative necessity"

I looked into this topic for my research paper a few weeks back, and Professor Prenkert informed me that the court had reached a decision recently. He suggested sharing the information with everyone, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this case.

Two weeks ago, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of three different writers of the "Friends" TV series who were charged with sexual harassment by a former writer's assistant. The assistant claimed that the writer's lewd behavior in the workplace in writing for the show should be considered sexual harassment. Examples of the writer's behavior include consistent talk about oral and anal sex, passing around inappropriate "coloring books," changing wording in the script to inappropriate words, and pretending to masturbate. The writers stated that it was a "creative necessity" and a crucial part of the creative process to be able to discuss sexually explicit topics due to the nature of the show. They stated that these behaviors and comments often led to material for the show. Apparently, the court agreed with the idea that their actions are excusable due to the nature of the show and the "creative necessity" of it. Also, they stated that the plaintiff was warned at the beginning of employment that she would be exposed to sexually vulgar topics. Finally, another reason that they ruled in favor of the writers is because, as one justice stated, that "Most of the sexually coarse and vulgar language at issue did not involve and was not aimed at plaintiff or other women in the workplace," Baxter said.

The specifics of this case can be found here or by searching for "Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions."

I am just curious as to everyone's overall thoughts on this case. Also, some specific questions I am interested in finding out are:

Do you agree with the court--should "creative necessity" be allowed?
If so, then, how far is too far?
What constitutes a "creative" workplace and makes the behavior ok in some instances, but not in others?


Blogger Ginger Tieman said...

To a certain extent, yes, I believe in creative necessity. As far as to address when a person goes too far, I think it really depends on the context and the type of show. For example, shows like Nip/Tuck which are really graphic and sexual in nature probably are entitled to a little more “creative necessity” than others.

Pertaining to the Friends’ case, I am not sure references to anal sex and pretending to masturbate are necessarily needed to get the creative juices flowing (no pun intended, sorry). Mostly because it doesn’t really seem in line with the show, and second, I do not think references to anal sex are even allowed on public television.

To address your third question, again, a creative workplace is individually defined. The term creative is too broad—Sesame Street is creative, modern art is creative, interpretive dance is creative, just in very different ways than the Friends’ workplace. As far as the television industry, what makes certain acts acceptable is if they are in the spirit of the show. Jokes between writers using language of a graphic nature is more acceptable in a Friend’s setting than at the set of, I don’t know, Seventh Heaven.

Lastly, just to comment on the actual case, while I feel for the plaintiff, I agree with the courts decision. It’s terrible she was made to feel uncomfortable, but sexual harassment is a subset of sexual discrimination under Title VII. Because this women was not target because of her sex, that both males and females were exposed to this behavior, it’s not sexual harassment.

3:01 PM  

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