A jury ordered former Public Broadcasting System talk show host Tavis Smiley to pay the network $1.5 million after determining that he violated the company’s moral’s clause by sexually harassing female coworkers.
Smiley, host of The Tavis Smiley Show, on late night television from 2005 to 2017, was suspended and later fired.
PBS said it took the action after it received multiple, credible allegations of misconduct on his late-night interview show, which was broadcast to more than 200 stations nationwide. Smiley admitted having romantic relationships with female colleagues during his career, arguing they were consensual.
He was the only black man who served as a solo host in the network’s history, according to the lawsuit. He sued PBS in Washington D.C. Superior Court, arguing the network fired him because of race and that he was wrongly terminated without proof. He sought $1 million in compensation, but PBS argued that he owed them money for a season that was not broadcast.
Network lawyers argued Smiley violated the company’s morals clause, which bars romantic relationships in the office. Six female employees described the misconduct claims, which Smiley denied. His downfall came during the #MeToo era.
The jury deliberated a day before reaching its verdict.
John Rubiner, Smiley’s lawyer, said his client will appeal the decision, according to the Washington Post.
PBS said it was pleased with the decision. Smiley, 56, was born in Gulfport, Mississippi and grew up in Bunker Hill, Indiana.
He graduated from Indiana University. During the 1980’s he worked as an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. In 1991, he became a radio commentator and beginning in 1996 he hosted BET (Black Entertainment) Talk. The program was later renamed BET Tonight.
In 2001, BET refused to renew his contract, and he began hosting The Travis Smiley Show on National Public Radio from 2002 to 2004 before moving to PBS. Tavis’s father is Emory Garnell Smiley, a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, and his mother is Joyce Marie Roberts.