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James Franco to Pay $2.2 Million to Settle Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit

Two of the actor's former film students formally accused him of sexually exploiting them in 2019

James Franco settle lawsuit settlement sexual misconduct exploitation abuse assault director actor James Franco, photo by Heather Kaplan
James Franco, photo by Heather Kaplan
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    Back in 2019, two of James Franco’s former film students filed a lawsuit accusing him of engaging in sexual misconduct. Now, the actor-director has agreed to pay over $2.2 million to finally settle that suit.

    Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, the two students behind the accusations, filed their lawsuit in October 2019. They claimed that Franco and his partners “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.” The lawsuit named Franco, his business partner, and their production company Rabbit Bandini.

    Franco ran a film and acting school called Studio 4 from 2014 to 2017. It was there, said Tither-Kaplan and Gall, that the actor and director would film sex scenes where he could “later review the material” and “[deny] the protections of nudity riders and other film-industry guidelines that govern how actors can be portrayed and treated in nude scenes.” In a different 2018 report in The Los Angeles Times, Tither-Kaplan also said she and several other women were selected to participate in a scene in where Franco simulated performing oral sex on each of them. She said that Franco, without their consent, removed the clear plastic guard that covered their vaginas and continued to simulate the sex act without protection. Performing oral sex without someone’s consent is considered sexual assault and potentially rape.

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    As The Hollywood Reporter notes, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal’s lawsuit was the “rare instance where alleged sexual exploitation became a putative class action” because they claimed that those taught by Franco at Studio 4 Film were the victims of fraud. Settlements are typically confidential and hidden from the press — as was the case when this settlement was first announced back in February — but because this was a class-action lawsuit, a judge must review the “fairness” of the settlement for those who are benefiting from, but not appearing in, the court. Hence, the details of Franco’s terms to settle are now public.

    The $2.2 million settlement will be divided among the students who sued Franco. Tither-Kaplan is getting $670,500 minus $223,500 in fees going to her lawyers. Gaal will get $223,500 minus $74,500 to go to her lawyers. The other students will get the remaining $1.341 million and the lawyers will take around $827,000. Franco has also agreed to “non-economic terms” for the individual plaintiffs, but that’s presently the subject of a motion to seal.

    Additionally, the settlement will require Tither-Kaplan and Gaal to release claims with the other students sharing fraud claims against the star actor. Classmates will have several months to opt out should they so choose, and any unclaimed money will be donated to the National Women’s Law Center.

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    Finally, the settlement also included an agreement from both parties to release the following statement: “While Defendants continue to deny the allegations in the Complaint, they acknowledge that Plaintiffs have raised important issues; and all parties strongly believe that now is a critical time to focus on addressing the mistreatment of women in Hollywood. All agree on the need to make sure that no one in the entertainment industry — regardless of race, religion, disability, ethnicity, background, gender or sexual orientation — faces discrimination, harassment or prejudice of any kind.”

    Previously, legal representatives for Franco called the accusations “false and inflammatory” and labelled his accusers as “attention-hungry” women. Most celebrities continued working with Franco and brushed off the claims. However, his friend and longtime collaborator onscreen Seth Rogen said he has “no plans” to work with Franco ever again because the misconduct allegations permanently “changed” their relationship.

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