Why James Franco Will Pay $2.2 Million Settlement For Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit: Details Of Claims Against Him

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James Franco

On Sunday, February 21, the Associated Press reported that the parties involved in a class-action lawsuit filed against James Franco in October 2019 has reached a tentative settlement agreement.

According to a joint status report submitted in Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 11th, the two plaintiffs agreed to drop their complaints against the acclaimed actor, his production company Rabbit Bandini, and his partners, including Vince Jolivette and Jay Davis.

The terms of the settlement were not made public at the time, but today it was announced that Franco will pay more than $2.2 million, pending court approval.

As reported by the LA Times, the $2,235,000 is proposed to be split between claims, with $894,000 earmarked "to settle sexual exploitation claims" and $1,341,000 earmarked "to a common fund to settle the fraud claims."

As part of the terms of the settlement, the documents state that "the defendants are admitting no liability."

Further, the plaintiffs, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, both of whom are actresses who were students at Franco's former acting school, Studio 4, "are agreeing to release their individual claims against Franco, without prejudice. If the settlement is approved, Tither-Kaplan would get $670,500 minus $223,500 that will go to lawyers; Gaal would get $223,500 minus $74,500 to the lawyers."

Additionally, a payment of $827,045 to settle fraud class claims "will be divided into those who paid tuition for Master Class courses and those who paid for any classes at Studio 4 Film School in New York or L.A. between February 2014 and the date the preliminary approval order is filed."

What did James Franco do?

The lawsuit in question alleged sex discrimination, sexual harassment, fraudulent business practices and intimidation and other charges while Tither-Kaplan and Gaal were students in a master class on sex scenes taught by Franco at Studio 4, which was in operation from 2014 to 2017.

The two women allege that Franco and other program superiors “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects,” and that the behavior “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.”

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Tither-Kaplan, along with other program participants, recounted several apparent incidents of exploitation to the LA Times a year prior to the lawsuit.

The women claim Franco denied typical protections to actresses filming nude scenes and had pressured them into uncomfortable situations.

Tither-Kaplan described an event in which Franco removed plastic guards from women’s genital regions while filming an orgy scene, then proceeded to simulate oral sex on them.

She also claimed that while working on the unreleased film "The Long Home" with Franco in 2015, she was asked to appear in nude scenes without prior notification, and said that one actress who was also asked and refused was swiftly dismissed from the project.

After witnessing the snub, Tither-Kaplan said, “I got it in my head pretty quickly that, OK, you don’t say ‘no’ to this guy.”

Katie Ryan, another industry hopeful who took classes at Franco’s school, said that the acclaimed actor “would always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts" in his projects.

Hilary Dusome and Natalie Chmiel, also former Studio 4 students, said that Franco treated them disrespectfully at another shoot.

Both actresses stated that Franco asked the assembled cast to take off their shirts, and angrily left the set when no one agreed.

Chmiel said the experience made her feel exploited.

“He just took advantage of our eagerness to work and be a part of something bigger,” the actress explained. “We were all these up-and-coming actors who were so hopeful.”

Licensed clinical social worker Vena M. Wilson expressed the injustice of abusing power dynamics in a career context.

“It is a privilege to be in leadership. It is a societal norm that leaders behave with integrity, ethically, and appropriately,” Wilson said, as “there is a power differential” that can be used to the leader’s advantage.

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Unfortunately, many powerful people do not heed this expectation, and their abuses can have long-lasting effects.

“Many victims of harassment tend to blame themselves for the exploitative acts,” Wilson explained. “As time passes, the person is likely to second-guess themselves and the safety in forming relationships, collaborative or otherwise, out of fear that they will be exploited.”

Sarah Tither-Kaplan told Good Morning America that she felt Franco had “abused his power by exploiting the non-celebrity women that he worked with under the guise of giving them opportunities.”

“I knew that by coming forward I was risking my career,” Tither-Kaplan said.

The actress explained that, although Franco’s actions were not particularly egregious in the grand scheme of abusive conduct, they played a part in enabling offenses on every level.

“James is absolutely not a Harvey Weinstein, he is not an unfeeling monster who has no sense of reality,” Tither-Kaplan said.

“It’s a pyramid, and at the top is rape and sexual violence and at the bottom are the other abuses of power… that continue to build and build and build and create a culture that allows the most heinous examples of sexual violence and misogyny and discrimination to happen.”

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Accusations against Franco first emerged in early 2018, after he accepted a Golden Globe award for his performance in "The Disaster Artist."

Franco wore a “Time’s Up” pin at the ceremony, and several women took to Twitter calling him a hypocrite.

Actress Ally Sheedy posted a series of tweets in which she implied that the actor had mistreated her when the two worked on a play together in 2014.

“James Franco just won,” Sheedy wrote. “Please never ever ask me why I left the film/tv business.”

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She later asserted that she had “said too much,” and deleted the statements shortly afterward.

Violet Paley, an aspiring filmmaker who reportedly dated Franco in 2016, also called out the actor via Twitter at the time of the award.

Paley told the LA Times that “the power dynamic was really off” in her relationship with Franco, as he was much older and had been a professional mentor to her.

Paley accused Franco of pressuring her into a sexual act, and of sexually propositioning a “friend” of hers who “was 17” at the time.

This was not the first time Franco had been accused of soliciting a teenager.

Franco was also exposed for hitting on a 17-year-old girl in 2014.

The teenager, a Scottish fan named Lucy Clode, met Franco in New York City at his Broadway show "Of Mice And Men."

The older man proceeded to follow Clode on Instagram, then sent her text messages asking if she had a boyfriend and requesting that they meet at a hotel. He also sent the young girl several selfies as evidence of his identity.

“I’ll come back when I’m 18,” Clode told Franco, who then requested that Clode “don’t tell” anyone about the interaction.

The actor defended himself on "Live with Kelly and Michael" shortly after the incident, telling audiences, “I'm embarrassed,” and “social media is tricky.”

“I used bad judgment and I learned my lesson,” Franco said.

Franco and his attorneys have expressly denied the majority of the claims against him.

In one court document, the defense team called the allegations “false and inflammatory,” and the complainants “attention-hungry.”

The actor himself has contradicted his accusers in multiple television appearances. However, Franco told one talk show host, “if I’ve done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to.”

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Allie McGlone is a writer who covers a variety of topics for YourTango, including pop culture and entertainment.