Actress Eliza Dushku reached a confidential $9.5 million settlement with CBS last year after claiming she was written off one of the network’s most successful shows following her complaints of sexual harassment by the program’s leading man.
The settlement became public as a result of an investigation by two independent law firms hired by the network’s board to examine accusations of sexual misconduct against Leslie Moonves, the company’s former chief executive, as well as “cultural issues at all levels of CBS,” The New York Times reported on Thursday.
CBS confirmed the settlement in a statement to NPR, writing, “The allegations in Ms. Dushku’s claims are an example that, while we remain committed to a culture defined by a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, our work is far from done.”
“The settlement of these claims reflects the projected amount that Ms. Dushku would have received for the balance of her contract as a series regular, and was determined in a mutually agreed upon mediation process at the time,” the statement said.
The Times, which said it reviewed a draft of the firms’ investigation report, said lawyers found widespread problems in the way the company handled sexual harassment claims and how it treated alleged victims. “When faced with instances of wrongdoing, the company had a tendency to protect itself, at the expense of victims,” the probe concluded, according to the newspaper.
Dushku, who is prohibited from talking about settlement, did not speak to the Times for its story. However, according to the newspaper, the report included detailed notes pertaining to mediation proceedings between the actress and the network.
In 2017, Dushku was hired to star in a three-episode arc on Bull, a procedural legal drama starring Michael Weatherly as the titular “brilliant, brash and charming” Jason Bull. At the time, the show’s writer and producer, Glenn Caron, told Dushku there were plans to make her a full-time cast member, going so far as to plot out a developing romantic storyline between Dushku and Weatherly that would come to fruition in the show’s fifth season. Bull was in its second season.
But shortly after joining the show, Dushku said, she became the target of several sexually charged comments by Weatherly. In one instance, according to notes in the report, Weatherly said he would bend the 37-year-old actress over his leg and spank her. Another time, in character during the filming of a scene, Dushku made a gesture holding up three fingers. Weatherly responded by suggesting that she wanted to have a threesome with him and another male cast member. The remark apparently drew laughs from the crew and also was followed by lascivious comments from at least one crew member.
The Times said:
“Because of his status on the show, his behavior was contagious, in Ms. Dushku’s view. She told investigators that a crew member approached her at one point and said with a chuckle, ‘I’m with Bull,’ before suggesting that he, too, wanted to take part in a threesome with her.”
Dushku eventually approached Caron with her concerns and together they decided that she would address the ongoing issue with Weatherly directly, which she did. According to the notes, Weatherly then texted the president of CBS Television Studios, “saying that he wanted to talk about Ms. Dushku’s sense of humor.”
Days later the actress was written off the show and told that plans to include her as a permanent cast member had been canceled. Dushku, who considered a lawsuit but decided to enter into mediation with the company, said she believed it was retaliation for confronting Weatherly and raising alarms about his behavior.
Weatherly has denied all of the allegations against him, saying he had no part in removing Dushku from Bull.
He did not deny having made the comments but explained that they were merely jokes, improvised in the spur of the moment.
The company tried to frame Dushku’s dismissal as the outcome of unprofessional behavior. In an attempt to argue their case, the network’s chief compliance officer presented outtakes from the program showing the actress cursing on the set. But investigators said the supposed damning evidence turned out to be a “gold mine” for Dushku because they “actually captured some of the harassment on film.”
“They said the company’s failure to recognize the instances of harassment caught on tape was a symptom of larger problems at CBS, according to the draft of their report,” the newspaper said.
In an emailed statement to the Times, Weatherly apologized for his behavior, writing:
“During the course of taping our show, I made some jokes mocking some lines in the script.
“When Eliza told me that she wasn’t comfortable with my language and attempt at humor, I was mortified to have offended her and immediately apologized. After reflecting on this further, I better understand that what I said was both not funny and not appropriate and I am sorry and regret the pain this caused Eliza.”
Since she is still bound by the rules of the settlement, Dushku was unable to speak freely with investigators; however, she did tell them: “You’re all I have at this point. My story is true and it’s really affected me, and I can’t talk about it.”