James Franco reaches a settlement in the 2019 sexual misconduct suit against him

The actor was accused of abusing his power and exploiting acting school students.
Published February 22, 2021 2:08 p.m. EST
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Two of James Franco’s former acting students, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, have reached a tentative settlement with Franco following the filing of a 2019 lawsuit that accused the star of seeking “to create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education.” Students at his former school Playhouse West Studio 4 (shut down in 2017) were strung along to believe they’d land roles in Franco’s Hollywood projects if they complied, allege Tither-Kaplan and Gaal. 

The two women have now agreed to drop their claims, pending a settlement negotiated by each side’s legal team. "The Plaintiffs can confirm that the Parties filed a Joint Status Report notifying the Court of a tentative settlement,” reads the legalese (via Entertainment Weekly). “The settlement will be further memorialized in a Joint Stipulation of Settlement to be filed with the Court at a later date."

Tither-Kaplan first came forward with her accusations in the LA Times and on Good Morning, America, saying that Franco "abused his power by exploiting the non-celebrity women that he worked with under the guise of giving them opportunities." She cited the example of Franco ordering that safety guards be removed during the filming of sex scenes in his unreleased movie, The Long Home. At the time, a total of five women had levelled accusations at the actor.

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In response, Franco appeared on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show to answer to the allegations, saying, "The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate, but I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn't have a voice for so long. So I don't want to, you know, shut them down in any way. If I have done something wrong, I will fix it — I have to." Later, he allowed his lawyers to accuse his former students of “jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon” and inserting themselves “into the media’s insatiable appetite to ruin the next celebrity.”

For her part, Tither-Kaplan says that the ordeal has left her with PTSD and seriously damaged her career in the entertainment industry. “This has been hell,” she tweeted after news of the settlement broke.

The former students aren’t the only women to accuse Franco of abusive behaviour in a professional setting. In her 2018 memoir, Franco’s Freaks and Geeks co-star Busy Philipps recalled an on-set incident that she says traumatized her for years. With the cameras rolling, Franco shoved Philipps to the ground and screamed in her face, “Don’t ever touch me again!” Philipps says she had been instructed to touch him by her director as part of the scene they were filming.

When Franco won his Golden Globe for The Disaster Artist, Ally Sheedy, who he once directed in an Off-Broadway production, tweeted “James Franco just won. Please never ask me why I left the film/tv business.” Questioned by yet another late night host about why he hadn’t responded to Sheedy, Franco replied, “It was so shocking. I don’t know. I just — I guess I’m just letting it be.”

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