News & Opinion | October 4, 2019 9:01 am

Women File Lawsuit Accusing James Franco’s Acting School of Sexual Exploitation

Two women claim the school promoted a sexually exploitative environment

James Franco Sexual Misconduct
This isn't the first time the actor has faced accusations of sexual misconduct.
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner

Two women have filed a lawsuit accusing actor James Franco and his now-defunct acting school of sexual exploitation. The lawsuit was filed Thursday and names Franco, his business partner Vince Jolivette, their production company and its general manager, Jay Davis, as defendants, the New York Times reported.

In the lawsuit, the women, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, claim Franco and his partners used the acting program to engage “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 suit claims these actions “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.”

Franco opened the acting school, called Studio 4, in 2014, and the program later closed in 2017. Both Tither-Kaplan and Gaal were students in 2014, and now claim the program largely functioned to surround Franco and his partners with vulnerable young women encouraged by false promises of auditions and film roles that never materialized.

The students paid $300 a month in tuition, and were also offered pricier “master classes,” including a $750 class in sex scenes. The lawsuit claims students who wanted to take the sex scene class were required to audition via videotape and to sign away their rights to the footage.

The lawsuit claims that in these classes, students “were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry.”

This is not the first time Franco’s behavior toward women has been called into question. Back in 2014, the actor admitted to pursuing a 17-year-old girl after messages they exchanged via Instagram were shared online. In 2018, several women spoke out about Franco’s inappropriate sexual behavior in a Los Angeles Times report. The actor was criticized heavily after wearing a Time’s Up pin to the Golden Globes ceremony that year.

Franco’s lawyer has denied the accusations made in Thursday’s lawsuit, calling them “ill-informed” and adding that “James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity-seeking lawsuit.”

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