HSRD Attorneys Dan Stormer and Tanya Sukhija-Cohen, along with the NY law firm Valle Kane & Vignini LLP, filed in LA Superior Court, October 3, 2019 on behalf of lead plaintiffs Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal. The complaint names as defendants Franco and his business associates Vince Jolivette and Jay Davis, along with their production companies and now defunct Studio 4 acting school. Tither-Kaplan and Gaal maintain, as stated in the complaint, that Studio 4 “created and maintained a pipeline of young, impressionable women who were funneled to Franco and his ‘boys’ with the intent to exploit them financially and sexually.”
Franco and his associates encouraged female students to “play ball” and participate in Defendants’ sexual exploits by dangling false hopes and casting opportunities. In addition to paying tuition for general Studio 4 classes, students were encouraged to audition for “Master Classes,” including one called “Sex Scenes” that was taught personally by Franco. Disregarding the normal industry practices for auditions in scenes involving nudity or intimate behavior, the Defendants routinely pressured female students to engage in nudity and simulated sex acts that “push the boundaries.” For example, plaintiffs witnessed Franco deliberately removing plastic guards covering women’s private areas during intimate scenes. Women who complained or refused to participate in such acts were replaced.
Dan Stormer said that the plaintiffs, “brought this lawsuit to put an end to the abusive power relationships that exist not only in Hollywood, but in society in general.” Tanya Sukhija-Cohen elaborated, “James Franco and his associates abused the exceptional power they had to the detriment of women. They promised to deliver legitimate acting training and career advancement, instead they simply put women in incredibly demeaning and sexual circumstances.”
The complaint also alleges that Franco and the other defendants held out Studio 4 as a legitimate acting school that would give students the ability to audition and be hired as talent by Franco’s production companies. The complaint alleges that Studio 4 was actually a fraudulent institution designed to circumvent California’s “Pay for Play” regulations that did not ultimately give students the opportunities they were led to believe they would have. Instead, the majority of actual roles in legitimate productions were given to non-students or young, attractive women who acquiesced to the sexual demands of the Defendants.
In response to previous allegations of sexual harassment, Franco said that if he had done anything wrong he would fix it, but the complaint states that he and the other defendants “have committed egregious wrongs to hundreds of student actors and have done nothing to fix these wrongs.”
Dan Stormer said, “This case involved a tremendous abuse of power. You have a leading figure in the entertainment industry abusing his power and then saying, ‘You didn’t complain enough,’ or, ‘You didn’t act in a way that clearly indicated to me you were uncomfortable. If you’re a plaintiff with no power versus someone who’s regarded as a movie industry giant, you don’t run around saying bad things until you’re pushed into corner from which you have no way to extricate yourself. These are abusive behaviors which any person would know should stop.”
Stormer asserted, “One bad word from James Franco, and if you ever had any hope of succeeding in the world of acting, that would end it…He has managed to affect in an extremely horrific way, literally hundreds of women. I think that what should happen to Franco and people like Franco – they should be barred from the industry.”
The complaint proposes a Sexual Exploitation Class consisting of all female student actors who enrolled in Studio 4 and expressed interest in Defendants’ Master Classes and who subsequently either participated or did not participate in these Master Classes. The complaint also proposes a Fraud Class consisting of all persons who paid tuition to Studio 4 from 2014 to 2017.
The complaint seeks monetary damages including refunds of tuition paid to Studio 4, and would require that all video of the sex scenes and auditions be destroyed. It also demands an apology and would require “defendants to participate in sexual harassment and sensitivity training.”
LA Times, January 2018 —