The women testified through video deposition that during their tenure with Smiley’s company, TS Media, Smiley had pressured them for sex or told lewd jokes. The trial, which lasted about three weeks, was held at D.C. Superior Court because TS Media, while based in Los Angeles, is incorporated in the District.
Smiley admitted to having intimate relationships with two of the women, but testified he never used his position as their boss to pressure or threaten them. And he said any jokes were innocent and not intended to offend.
For 14 years, PBS distributed Smiley’s late-night talk show to 238 PBS stations nationwide, about 72 percent of its network.
The court case began when Smiley claimed the network terminated his contract without proof of the allegations and sued PBS for nearly $1 million. The network countersued for about $1.7 million that it said Smiley owes in money it provided to him for a season that never aired.
PBS attorneys said Smiley could be ordered to pay the network as much as $1.9 million, including penalties and fees. Judge Yvonne Williams, who oversaw the trial, scheduled another hearing to finalize Smiley’s financial penalties.
Outside the courtroom after the verdicts were read, three jurors said the panel found the cumulative testimony of the women to be “credible.”
This wasn’t just ‘he said, she said,’ ” said one of the jurors, a 38-year-old man from Northeast Washington. “This was ‘he said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said.’ ”
Three jurors who spoke to The Washington Post asked that their names not be used to protect their privacy.
The jurors said they also arrived at their verdicts based on what they determined as Smiley’s “lack of contrition.”
“He just kept saying everything was a lie. Not, ‘I don’t remember,’ or, ‘It was so long ago I can’t recall.’ He kept saying everything all of these women were saying was a lie,” said one 35-year-old man from Northeast.
Smiley repeatedly denied the sexual harassment accusations but acknowledged he was in a long-term relationship with a senior producer at the time he signed the contract for his 15th season with the network. That woman, who confirmed the relationship and was the seventh woman to testify, never accused Smiley of harassment. PBS bars such relationships.
Smiley argued that because he was not an employee of PBS, he did not fall under the same rules as those who worked for the network.
After the verdict was read, Smiley declined to comment as he and his mother, Joyce, rushed out of the courthouse.
One of Smiley’s attorneys, John Rubiner, said his client planned to appeal. “We are very disappointed in the verdict, but we respect the process.”
Paula A. Kerger, PBS president and chief executive, who attended the entire trial, hailed the verdict as “vindication for all of the women who came forward and shared their stories” of Smiley’s alleged harassment “as well as those women who wanted to come forward but were afraid.”
PBS lead attorney Grace Speights called the win a “victory for PBS standing up for what was right” and a “victory for any woman who felt threatened or harassed.”
In the video depositions, nearly half of the women testified that they felt pressured to comply with Smiley’s requests for sex and that they faced retaliation — even losing their jobs — if they didn’t. The other half described comments or jokes by Smiley that they said made them uncomfortable in the workplace.
Smiley testified three times. He said several of the accounts were false and insisted he never acted with retribution and never intended to offend.
The allegations against Smiley surfaced in late 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement when women across the nation were using social media to voice their stories and outrage regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault.
During the trial, one of Smiley’s attorneys, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., argued PBS treated Smiley unfairly because the network was also dealing with sexual allegations against Charlie Rose, another PBS talk-show host. PBS terminated Rose’s show.
Sullivan questioned PBS’s internal investigation of Smiley and said the women never presented any witnesses, text messages, emails or phone records to substantiate their claims.
The jury, though, was swayed by the accounts from the women. Two jurors said listening to the women lay out the details of Smiley’s behavior in their own words was the most challenging part of the case.
“Hearing those stories was the hardest part,” said a 35-year-old juror from Columbia Heights, one of the two women on the jury. During the trial, she was often seen shifting her body in her seat and bowing her head when the women spoke of various sexual acts they said Smiley requested.