In-House Counsel

CBS paid $9.5M to settle actress's sexual harassment claim after company lawyer's strategy backfired

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Eliza Dushku. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

CBS paid $9.5 million to settle a sexual harassment claim by Bull actress Eliza Dushku after a network lawyer released outtakes from the show in the mistaken belief that film of her cursing on the set would help the company.

The outtakes were a “gold mine” for Dushku because they captured some of the harassment, according to a draft investigation report obtained by the New York Times.

The draft report was written by Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton, law firms hired to investigate sexual misconduct allegations against the network’s then-CEO, Leslie Moonves. The findings reportedly say CBS would be justified in denying $120 million in severance pay to Moonves, according to another New York Times story.

The lawyer who released the Bull outtakes was Mark Engstrom, the chief compliance officer at CBS. The report praised Engstrom as a “smart and very capable lawyer” but said the company’s failure to recognize the harassment documented on tape was evidence of a bigger problem.

The settlement was confidential, but CBS provided confirmation in a statement to the New York Times.

Dushku had been hired to play a criminal defense lawyer in three episodes of Bull, and there were plans to give her a full-time position, according to the New York Times story. But she was written off the show after confronting its star, Michael Weatherly, about several comments that made her uncomfortable.

The show is loosely based on Dr. Phil McGraw, who worked as a trial consultant before he landed his own TV show. Weatherly is cast as the trial consultant, who is also a flirt. According to interview notes for the report, Weatherly once referred to Dushku as “Legs,” joked that he would spank her, and joked that she wanted a threesome when she held up three fingers as part of a scene.

Weatherly told the Times that the threesome comment was an ad-lib. He also acknowledged changing a line in which he was supposed to say, “Step into my windowless van,” by saying he would take Dushku to his “rape van.” Weatherly said he had intended his comment as a joke because he found the line distasteful.

Weatherly said in a statement that he was mortified to learn that he had offended Dushku, and he now understands his statements weren’t funny and weren’t appropriate., the Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair have a different take on the leaked report. The issue is whether the leak has compromised the expectation of secrecy for employees who cooperated in the investigation.

Some directors at CBS reportedly fear the leak could lead to more legal exposure for CBS, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The law firms released a statement to in response to its query. “Covington and Debevoise take this matter very seriously and are working to determine the facts,” the statement said.

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