In 2017, PBS announced that Tavis Smiley’s show had been suspended indefinitely. The network eventually shared a statement sharing that Smiley had been accused of sexual misconduct at work. PBS never went into detail about the allegations.
But other news outlets reported that Smiley had been accused of having romantic relationships with several coworkers. They also shared that Smiley had created a verbally abusive and threatening work environment, with women believing that their employment was contingent upon a romantic relationship with him.
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Smiley sued PBS in 2018. The lawsuit stated that the network breached its contract with his production company. He claimed the network trumped-up charges in an attempt to end his show, which had been on the air for 14 years. He alleged that there were existing racial tensions between his company and PBS. Later that year, PBS filed a countersuit asking for $1.9 million, for the return of production expenses.
Smiley responded to the allegations via Facebook.
Since then, the story fell out of public attention. But recently, Variety published the findings of PBS’ investigation into the claims made against Smiley, which ranged from inappropriate sexual comments and touching, to relationships with subordinates and guests of the show.
Variety reports that one former employee alleged that days after she started working for Smiley, he called her on her cell phone, though they were both at the office, to invite her to lunch. He told her where to meet him and drive there. During the lunch, Smiley asked the woman if she had a boyfriend and on the drive back, about her bra size. He offered to take her to Victoria’s Secret to “buy you some stuff, some panties.”
The woman attempted to laugh off the comments but Smiley said, “If you don’t tell me what bra size you wear, I will make you walk back to the office.” Later, he left a voicemail on her cell phone telling her she looked “so good’ in the pink dress she wore to work. The woman was eventually laid off. She claims it was because she “knew too much” in terms of Smiley’s behavior when it comes to women.
Several women shared that their relationships with Smiley were consensual, though they highlighted the power dynamics. Smiley’s former traveling producer said she had a sexual relationship with him, which began during a work trip. She said a hotel’s front desk told her that Smiley requested her to his room for business purposes.
When she got there, Smiley made sexual advances. She claims she told him, “Look, I worked really hard for this job, and I am not trying to lose it because of a relationship with you.” Smiley allegedly told her that it wouldn’t happen. He said that she was smart but “we just need to keep it a secret since I am your boss.”
When others eventually learned of their relationship, she was terminated. She was told that her work performance was the cause of her termination but she believed their relationship coming to light made things difficult with the other women he was dating in the office.
Another woman, a guest on the show, claimed that Smiley expressed disappointment when he learned that she wasn’t divorced. Later, he expressed to her that he didn’t find her attractive pregnant. She was not asked to return to the show.
In 2000, a woman claimed that Smiley grabbed her behind while they posed for a picture. She said on another occasion, he brushed her purposely touching his penis to her buttocks. She said later he pretended it had been an accident. She said that one time, visiting his home, Smiley opened the door not wearing pants and asked her to have a threesome with him and his executive producer Kimberly McFarland, who was already naked in Smiley’s bed. The woman claimed she looked scared.