Friends Assistant Writer Loses Sexual Harassment Suit

Posted on April 26, 2006

Remember the lawsuit by the assistant writer on the set of the hit sitcom Friends? She sued the producers and head writers for sexual harassment in the workplace, citing a hostile work environment in which the head writers did some pretty off the wall things, and generally acted like boys at a frat party. Well, she just lost her case on summary judgment. That means she lost before the case went to trial.
"The record discloses that most of the sexually coarse and vulgar language at issue did not involve and was not aimed at plaintiff or other women in the workplace," according to the 48-page opinion. Looking at all the facts, including the fact that "Friends" involved "a creative workplace focused on generating scripts for an adult-oriented comedy show featuring sexual themes," the justices said that no "reasonable" judge or jury would find that the language constituted harassment or created a hostile workplace.

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It was Lyle's job to listen to the jokes and document them for potential use in scripts. She was fired after four months because of problems with her typing and transcription skills, the court said. "In reaching this conclusion, we do not suggest the use of sexually coarse and vulgar language in the workplace can never constitute harassment because of sex," the justices said. "Nor do we imply that employees generally should be free, without employer restriction, to engage in sexually coarse and vulgar language or conduct at the workplace. We simply recognize that (the state's harassment law) is not designed to rid the workplace of vulgarity."
The court made the point that because the writers weren't aiming the vulgar and/or offensive language directly at her that it didn't constitute sexual harassment under the laws of the state of California.

So what does this mean for writers who work in television? It means please feel free to be as gross and disgusting at work as you like, so long as the show you're working on has some gross and disgusting elements and so long as you're not aiming those gross and disgusting comments or ideas directly at a fellow employee. Here's a practical tip: you might want to be careful who you hire to transcribe some of your most vulgar ideas: a jaded, cynical ex-porn industry worker should keep you relatively free from future sexual harassment lawsuits.