Franco's former students alleged he abused his power at his now-defunct acting school.

Olivia Harvey
Updated Feb 22, 2021 @ 10:19 am
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Credit: Vincent Sandoval, Getty Images

Warning: This story discusses alleged sexual harassment.

Update, February 22nd, 2021: James Franco has reportedly settled the lawsuits filed by his former students, EW reported. The outlet reviewed a Joint Status Report filed by all parties involved that said Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, who had previously accused Franco of sexual misconduct, had dropped their complaints.

A statement on behalf of Valli Kane & Vagnini, LLP that was provided to EW reads, "The Plaintiffs can confirm that the Parties filed a Joint Status Report notifying the Court of a tentative settlement. The settlement will be further memorialized in a Joint Stipulation of Settlement to be filed with the Court at a later date."

Original story, October 4th, 2019: Yesterday, October 3rd, two former students of James Franco's now-defunct acting school, Studio 4, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming that Franco and his business partners subjected them and other students to sexual exploitation and never followed through with promises to cast them in movie roles.

As reported by The New York Times, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal allege that, while taking classes at Studio 4, Franco and his colleagues "engaged 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." And these actions "led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class," their suit reads.

Franco's lawyer, Michael Plonsker, denied Tither-Kaplan and Gaal's allegations, calling the lawsuit "ill-informed." Plonsker said, per the Times, "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."

Studio 4 was launched in 2014, with locations in both New York and Los Angeles. Tither-Kaplan and Gaal each paid their membership dues ($300 per month) at the Los Angeles branch, which is where the events in their claim reportedly took place.

According to the women, Studio 4, which closed its doors in 2017, offered master classes, including a $750 sex-scene master class, which students had to audition for via videotape and sign away their rights to the footage.

In both the auditions and classes, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal said they were denied protections of "nudity riders," which are a strict set of guidelines used to protect actresses and actors in nude and sex scenes. Furthermore, they claim Franco and his colleagues preyed upon "often young and inexperienced females" who "were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry."

Tither-Kaplan took the master class in question and said she was often asked to appear in nude and/or sex scenes, including an orgy scene in which Franco removed plastic vaginal guards, which are commonly used in oral sex simulation scenes, from female actresses. false

Tither-Kaplan has been vocal in the past about the sexual misconduct she experienced while in Franco's presence, and specifically spoke up during the Time's Up movement in January 2018. Franco publicly supported women coming forward about abuse and harassment by wearing a Time's Up pin to the 2018 Golden Globes.

Yet Franco has publicly denied allegations against him made by Tither-Kaplan, and others like Violet Paley, who also accused Franco in 2018 of sexually harassing her and her underaged friends.

"I can't sleep at night knowing that my coming forward, originally, did not do the work that I wanted it to do yet," Tither-Kaplan said, per the Times. "There still has been no action, publicly, that shows me that these people know what they did is wrong and harmful and can't been repeated."

Tither-Kaplan and Gaal are seeking monetary damages and the return or destruction of any video recordings submitted by former Studio 4 class members. Their suit also seeks a class-action status so others who may have experienced similar treatment may join.

We'll keep you updated on the progress of the women's lawsuit as details unfold.