NEW YORK (AP) — Actress Eliza Dushku says she struggled with her decision to keep quiet about the sexual harassment she says she endured from the star of the CBS show “Bull,” weighing her desire to keep her ordeal private against her worry that it would be swept under the rug.
Dushku, who says she was written off the show after she complained about actor Michael Weatherly’s behavior, agreed to stay silent as part of a $9.5 million settlement with CBS earlier this year. But she says she took solace in a requirement she imposed on the company: that “CBS designate someone trained in sexual harassment compliance to monitor Weatherly and the show in general.”
“CBS did not want to do this, but I wouldn’t settle without this condition,” Dushku wrote in an essay in The Boston Globe, her first comments about the settlement, which was first reported last week by The New York Times.
Dushku says in the essay published Wednesday that she broke her silence because she was angry that Weatherly and show producer Glenn Gordon Caron spoke publicly about the case to the Times with “more deflection, denial, and spin.”
CBS quietly settled with Dushku while the company was dealing with sexual harassment allegations against its top executive, Les Moonves, who was forced out as CEO in September after the accusations became public.
The settlement also came at the height of the #MeToo movement that galvanized hundreds of women to publicly reveal their experiences with sexual misconduct. The movement has highlighted the widespread corporate practice of handling sexual harassment cases through confidential settlements, which offer victims privacy but can also help enable serial misbehavior.
The settlement with Dushku came to light as part of an external investigation into the allegations against Moonves, highlighting how difficult it has become to keep such cases secret amid the nationwide reckoning over sexual harassment.
“Hopefully exposure to sunlight and public knowledge would have a beneficial effect, but maybe what we are seeing with her situation is that it’s not easy and it’s difficult for people to come forward,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “It sounds like she was in a horrible position and that she didn’t have many good options.”
Dushku, 37, said she asked Weatherly to stop his behavior, which she said included inviting her to join him in a “rape van,” proposing a “threesome” with her and saying he wanted to spank her after she flubbed a line. Shortly after she spoke directly to Weatherly, she was written off the show.
Dushku said the alternative to a confidential settlement would have been a drawn-out lawsuit, which, because of her contract, would have been handled in private arbitration proceedings instead of a court.
“The condition CBS required of me was that I not speak about what happened. I really struggled with this and still do,” Dushku wrote.
Weatherly’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Previously, he told the Times that his comments were meant as jokes and that he apologized to Dushku.
Dushku says that Weatherly never apologized, and she learned during the settlement process that he texted CBS Television President David Stapf to complain about her “humor deficit.” New York-based CBS has confirmed the settlement but declined to comment about Dushku’s piece in the Globe.
Sam P. Israel, a New York attorney who handles harassment cases, said Dushku’s struggle is typical among victims of workplace misconduct. He said confidential settlements are often their best recourse for compensation, but many victims are concerned that secrecy will enable future abuse.
“You are faced with this dilemma: I can take the money, which I feel that I’m entitled to, or I can insist on having this thing be open, so I can make a difference in the culture,” said Israel, managing partner of Sam P. Israel P.C.
Michael Willemin, a partner at the New York employment law firm Wigdor LLP, said confidential settlements can be beneficial for victims who want to remain anonymous. But he said arbitration agreements, which employees sign as part of their contracts, unfairly binds plaintiffs into a process that favors the employer before any dispute has even arisen.
Facebook and Google are among prominent companies that have dropped a requirement for mandatory arbitration of sexual misconduct in response to pressure from their employees and the public.
Dushku touched on the personal costs of speaking out in her essay.
“The last thing I want at this point in my life is to be in the news,” she wrote.
By ALEXANDRA OLSON
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