Actor James Franco responded to a lawsuit filed by two women who claim they were sexually exploited as students of his now-closed acting school. The allegations came to light in early 2018 and the former students, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, filed their lawsuit in October 2019. Franco called the allegations "false" and said the women were "attention-hungry."
"While the salacious allegations in the complaint have made great tabloid fodder, they are also false and inflammatory, legally baseless and brought improperly in the form of a class action largely to gain as much publicity as possible," Franco wrote in his written objection to the lawsuit, obtained by PEOPLE.
"This lawsuit is a travesty of justice and the culmination of a meritless campaign that has unfairly tarnished a decent man's hard-earned reputation," Franco continued.
The women were students at Franco's school Playhouse West Studio 4, which opened in 2014 and closed in 2017.
In the lawsuit, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal accused Franco and his collaborators of "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 actions "led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class," the lawsuit reads.
The women claimed they paid $300 a month in tuition at the school's Los Angeles branch and were offered sex scenes classes costing $750. The sex scene class involved auditions Franco filmed and the students were told to give him the rights to the recordings, the women claimed. They also claim the auditions violated traditional industry guidelines for nude scenes. The inexperienced students "were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry."
Gaal said she did an audition for the sex scenes classes, but was not accepted after she voiced her displeasure, she claimed. Tither-Kaplan also took the class and earned roles in unreleased independent Franco movies. She claimed she filmed an orgy scene where Franco removed a guard from actresses' vaginas.
Tither-Kaplan was one of the five women who accused Franco of sexual exploitation in a Los Angeles Times piece published in January 2018. She was also a vocal critic of Franco when he wore a "Time's Up" button at the 2018 Golden Globes, days before the allegations were published.
In his response to the lawsuit, Franco's attorneys claim Tither-Kaplan was once a supporter of Franco, publishing "unsolicited tweets and texts extolling Franco's virtues, how much she admired him and how much she got out of her time at Studio 4." The response claims Tither-Kaplan "knowingly engaged" in nude scenes with Franco.
Franco's attorney also issued a statement to PEOPLE in October, saying the allegations were already "debunked."
"We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed Complaint in-depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served," the statement read. "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."
Photo credit: Taylor Hill/WireImage/Getty Images