Tavis Smiley's Lawsuit Against PBS Isn't Going Too Well

Talk show host Tavis Smiley speaks during the ‘Tavis Smiley’ panel at the PBS portion of the 2011 Winter TCA press tour held at the Langham Hotel on Jan. 9, 2011, in Pasadena, Calif.
Talk show host Tavis Smiley speaks during the ‘Tavis Smiley’ panel at the PBS portion of the 2011 Winter TCA press tour held at the Langham Hotel on Jan. 9, 2011, in Pasadena, Calif.
Photo: Frederick M. Brown (Getty Images)

The indignantly distressed former PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley is not faring well in his legal battle against PBS, the network which released him from his contract in December 2017 over allegations of sexual misconduct.


On Thursday, D.C. District Court Judge Anthony Epstein ruled that Smiley cannot compel the nonprofit network to turn over documents related to every romantic relationship a network supervisor has ever had with a subordinate since the early 2000s, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The documents are related to part of a discovery request that the jurist deemed too broad.

In February, Smiley sued the network after it cut his show, saying that his firing damaged his brand, and that the company used the allegations “as a pretext to finally rid themselves of Mr. Smiley, who was not the ‘team player’ type of African American personality PBS preferred to have hosting a nightly national news and public affairs program.” The network filed a countersuit against him, seeking to recoup almost $2 million from him because he violated the morals clause in his contract.

As part of his lawsuit, Smiley sought to compel PBS to produce its sexual harassment policies since 2000 and any records of PBS managers having a relationship with a subordinate and the resulting disciplinary actions, if there were any, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

This follows another loss which took place in May. At that time PBS was able to dismiss two of Smiley’s claims around the network’s press statements including the words “’multiple credible’ allegations of sexual misconduct” by Smiley, which was the reason given for pulling the plug on the show. At that time, Epstein found that PBS’s conduct was “unquestionably” protected by the First Amendment in that it concerns both a public figure and an issue of public interest.

Following the decision, PBS was awarded nearly $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. This time, Judge Epstein basically said that your man was reaching too far.


“TSM is not entitled to conduct a fishing expedition concerning all romantic or personal relationships between superiors and subordinates within PBS or within companies with which PBS did business,” Epstein wrote. “However, if TSM has information that PBS tolerated behavior inside PBS or within one or more of its partners that is comparable to the behavior in which Mr. Smiley is alleged to have engaged, or if other discovery in this case shows that PBS compared Mr. Smiley’s conduct with conduct of other people with whom it did business, targeted discovery may be appropriate.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter:

Smiley also sought information related to PBS’ decision to cancel his show. He contends the sexual misconduct allegations were a smokescreen and claims the network is “racially hostile.” PBS disputes the claim but argues that it had the contractual right to cancel the show for any reason, including a racially discriminatory one, and therefore documents concerning its motives are irrelevant. Epstein isn’t entirely convinced.

“The Court is not inclined to decide in the abstract, and in the discovery context, whether this principle applies if PBS terminated its distribution agreement for racially discriminatory reasons,” writes Epstein. “TSM does not provide any specific information supporting its allegation that PBS would not have terminated the distribution arrangement if he were not African-American, but the Court is unwilling to make an open-ended ruling that a contractual provision or the First Amendment gives media companies a license to engage in discrimination based on race.”

In denying the motion, Epstein also denied Smiley’s request to file a 145-page memorandum in support of his motion to compel. Epstein criticized the filing as “mind-numbing” in its repetition and full of “wholly unnecessary” details, such as where Smiley got his undergraduate degree.


Epstein denied Smiley’s motions without prejudice, which means that his attorneys can appeal.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.



Dude is taking the L really poorly and continuing to damage his “brand” just like he damaged so many women who worked for him while he was whoring around at good old PBS.