Will Sexual Harassment Charges Bring Down ‘House’?

The central character in the Fox medical drama “House” evokes similarities to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, but a lawsuit filed against the show’s producer, Universal Network Television, makes what occurs behind the scenes sound more like an MTV reality series.

According to a story published by the Hollywood Reporter on December 7, 2011, Carl Jones sued Universal and two of its staffers in July 2010 after spending four years working as an assistant property master on the show. Jones claims he was victim to sexual harassment and fired when he spoke up about allegedly obnoxious behavior on the part of his supervisors.

The Reporter said Jones is targeting his supervisors Tyler Patton and Mike Casey, alleging his genitals were groped and that he was called a “slave” in addition to a variety of other expletives. “In the prop trailer where Jones worked, the plaintiff alleges that adult magazines and adult movies were around and that his supervisors were hard drinkers who would invite females from the wardrobe and other production departments there to engage in sexual activity,” the Reporter said. Jones also alleges he was “forced to clean up semen and condom wrappers and was ridiculed when he declined to go out to a nearby off-set strip club.”

Contrary to Universal’s policies, the Reporter also said Patton allegedly brought a real gun on the set of the show and “would throw knifes in between bouts of tequila drinking.” Jones claims an “extremely drunk Patton” fired him in March 2010. He complained to Garret van der Meer, the show’s co-executive producer/unit production manager, afterward but the former staffer says his complaints were ignored. Furthermore, the Reporter said Jones “believes that speaking up about what was going on, including contacting his union, led to retaliation, included being ‘blackballed from all Universal Productions.’” While Jones secured another job after his termination, he was unable to get access to the Fox lot after being placed on a blacklist and consequently lost the second job.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin “considered some of the evidence submitted in depositions so far and tentatively decided there are enough triable issues to reject Universal’s motions to dismiss discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims,” according to the Reporter. After nearly a year and a half of “extensive discovery and pre-trial motions,” the judge asked for additional briefings for another hearing. If Fruin sticks to his tentative ruling, the Reporter said the case could be on track to be heard by a jury next year.

The types of harassment in this case seemingly constitute a hostile working environment rather than quid pro quo sexual harassment, although both are illegal. While unions are extremely powerful in Hollywood, the investigation launched in 1947 by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) into Communist influence on the motion picture industry led to one of the most famous examples of blacklisting in American history. The era ruined thousands of careers and lives, and many guilds consider the period of time to be a dark area of an otherwise proud history that is hopefully never repeated. Have you or a loved one ever been blacklisted?

Law Offices of Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob – Los Angeles employment attorneys