James Franco Settles Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit Connected to Acting School

Actor James Franco has reached a tentative settlement with a group of students from his now-closed acting school who accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment during their time in his classes, lawyers for the plaintiffs said Saturday. In October 2019, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accusing Franco of alleged sexual exploitation and fraud, claiming he and his partners put them in sexually exploitative positions. Franco denied the allegations at the time.

The two sides in the class-action lawsuit filed a joint status report in court, telling the judge a settlement was reached, reports the Associated Press. The filing was submitted on Feb. 11, but not reported on until this week. The plaintiffs' attorneys confirmed an agreement was reached, but provided no further details on the terms. The deal will be "further memorialized in a Joint Stipulation of Settlement to be filed with the Court at a later date," the attorneys said. There had been talks of a settlement for months, which delayed the lawsuit's progress.

As part of the agreement, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal agreed to drop their individual claims, reports the Associated Press. However, the sexual exploitation allegations from other plaintiffs in the class action will be dismissed without prejudice, which means they could be filed again. Fraud allegations from these plaintiffs are "subjected to limited release," according to the joint status report.

The alleged incidents in the lawsuit happened in a master class on sex scenes at Studio 4, the acting school Franco taught at. It operated from 2014 to 2017. Tither-Kaplan and Gaal accused Franco and his partners at the school of engaging "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," according to the lawsuit. Their actions created an "environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class," the lawsuit alleged.

The two actresses claimed Franco pushed students to perform explicit sex scenes before a camera in a setting similar to an "orgy" and far more graphic than acceptable Hollywood standards. Franco allegedly wanted to "create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education," according to the lawsuit.

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In a March 2020 filing, Franco denied the allegations. "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's objection to the lawsuit read. "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."

Tither-Kaplan was among the women who criticized Franco for wearing a "Time's Up" button to the 2018 Golden Globes after the Los Angeles Times published a report on Franco's alleged abusive behavior with women. During a January 2018 appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Franco denied sexual misconduct allegations. "I can't live if there's restitution to be made. If I've done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to," Franco said at the time. "I don't know what else to do."