Eliza Dushku speaks out about sexual harassment in the workplace.
The 40-year-old actress testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about suffering “near constant sexual harassment” while she was on CBS’s Taurus and was “silently fired when I tried to handle it.”
The hearing, titled “Silent: How Forced Arbitration Shades Victims of Sexual Assault and Harassment,” was held before lawmakers considered new legislation to eliminate forced arbitration clauses in labor, consumer and civil rights cases. Dushku, who accused fellow player Michael Weatherly of harassment, was fired within 24 hours of his complaint. When she fought it, she was forced to arbitrate, according to her contract. Her reported settlement, a $9.5 million settlement, which was roughly the payout of her contract, resulted in a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) preventing her from discussing the matter publicly.
Because Dushku testified, she was able to provide more details than her NDA agreement usually allows. She explained how CBS “aggressively chased her” for the role of JP Nunnelly, which she was told was made for her.
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However, the very first week, in 2017, she said the harassment began with “crude, sexualized, and lewd verbal attacks” by Weatherly, 53. She said it was “almost constant sexual harassment” and “unlike anything else” that she had been on set as a working actor since the age of 9.
Dushku made a six-year commitment to appear on the show as a smart, strong, confident lawyer. She claimed Weatherly, also a producer, would call her “Legs”, smell her and look at her “shivering”.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Alum recalled how Weatherly once, in front of 100 cast and crew members, said he would, “Take me to his rape car and use lube and long phallic things on me, and take me over his knee and spank me.” like a little girl.” Another time, he told her that his “semen were powerful swimmers.”
Dushku shared how “humiliating” it was and how she “feared going to work.” She feared pushing back would jeopardize her “job” and damage her professional reputation.
She said things peaked when she gave a courtroom monologue that she had spent a lot of preparation on. When she finished the scene, she said that Weatherly yelled that he and his friend wanted to have a threesome with her. She “started a fake penis joust while the camera was still rolling,” she said.
The toxicity spread, she said. During a coffee break, she said a crew member came up to her and said, “I’m with Bull,” the name of Weatherly’s character, Dr. Jason Bull. “I want a threesome with you too.”
Dushku was “appalled” and dressed for work in loose clothing, including sweat borrowed from her husband. After discussing the situation with her manager, she decided to talk to Weatherly directly and did, nervously asking him to be her ally — and toned down the sexualized comments.
“He responded with a feigned shock: ‘No one respects women more than I do. I grew up with sisters,'” she said.
She later learned that 40 minutes after that exchange, Weatherly texted the head of CBS Studios saying that Dushku had a “humor deficit” and that he didn’t want her on the show. Although the studio head replied that Dushku was “great and made the show better”, she was fired the next day.
She said that due to a mandatory arbitration clause in her contract – which she did not know existed – she was silenced and forced to arbitrate when she took legal action.
“I have worked as an actress since I was a child and signed numerous contracts negotiated on my behalf, but I never understood that there were mandatory arbitration clauses that would be used to keep what had happened to me a secret and to prevent CBS and the sexual harassment perpetrator, who had blatantly retaliated against me for trying to stop the harassment in my workplace,” said Dushku.
“I was shocked to learn that I had given away my rights to a public forum before taking a job,” she said. “Who would ever come up with such a clause? Who were these clauses intended to favor and protect? It suddenly became very clear: not me.”
Dushku said that while video had even surfaced of the harassment “literally recorded on the tapes”, it is all under lock and key due to the arbitration clause.
In 2018, Dushku reached the reported $9.5 million settlement, which is roughly what she would make if she stayed on the show. However, she said it doesn’t make up for what has happened to her reputation for speaking – and not being able to have her day in court.
“To this day when my career, my life’s work is referenced, my achievements as an actor are ignored,” she said. “I’ve been reduced to ‘Eliza Dushku, the actress who was paid off'” allegedly being sexually harassed in a TV series.’ … This was not the outcome I desired or ever expected, but through binding arbitration there will never be true justice for me and countless other victims of sexual harassment and assault.”
Taurus, starring Weatherly, continues to air on CBS. For his part, he publicly denied having anything to do with Dushku being written off the show. However, he admitted that he had engaged in behavior that was “both unfunny and inappropriate” and said he regretted “the pain this caused Eliza”.