California Supreme Court rejects 'Friends' lawsuit

CALIFORNIA –In a victory for free-expression advocates, the state Supreme Court ruled lastweek that sexually themed speech in a communications workplace was not groundsfor sexual harassment.

In the unanimous decision, the CaliforniaSupreme Court tossed out a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former assistant onthe TV show ”Friends.” The woman claimed profanity-laced meetings ofthe show’s writers, which included frank sexual discussions, resulted inharassment.

The court concluded that the sexually explicitdiscussions were not aimed at the woman or other female employees and werereasonable in a ”creative workplace” that must generate televisionscripts for a ”an adult-oriented comedy show featuring sexualthemes.”

Several film, academic and free-speech organizations,including the Student Press Law Center, filed a friend-of-the-court briefsupporting Warner Bros. Television Productions, which produced ”Friends.”

Should the court rule in favor of theplaintiff, the brief said, the First Amendment might no longer protect sexuallythemed speech in workplaces throughout the state, including collegecampuses.

”At the university, frank sexual discussion andsexual images can serve important pedagogic purposes,” the briefsaid.

”Under the lower court’s ruling, newsroomdiscussions of sexual misconduct by an athlete or classroom debates about thedangers of pornography could have been the basis of a sexual harassmentcomplaint,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press LawCenter.

According to the California Supreme Court decision, thewoman, Amaani Lyle, was fired in 1999 after four months of work for typing tooslowly. She then filed the lawsuit against the production company and three malewriters for the show.