Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions et al.: Lawsuit Threatening Expansion of Sexual Harassment Codes

Category: Free Speech

FIRE joined a large coalition in filing an amicus brief on behalf of Warner Brothers Television Productions et al., who successfully urged the California Supreme Court to unanimously reverse a state appellate court decision could have had a profoundly chilling implications for free speech. In this case, Plaintiff Amaani Lyle, who was briefly a writer’s assistant for the popular sitcom Friends, alleged that the frequent sexual banter of the show’s male and female writers subjected her to harassment as they discussed ideas and developed storylines and scripts. While admitting that she was not the target of any of the comments, Lyle claimed that some of the comments were generally derogatory towards women and therefore created a “hostile environment.” The amicus brief, written for the national coalition by attorney Frederic D. Cohen of Horvitz & Levy LLP in Encino, California, argued that “communicative workplaces,” such as writers’ offices and universities, depend on free-wheeling and uninhibited dialogue and discussion to function.

  • On Point

    April 26, 2006

    [...] Friends of free speech Thank heaven for Hollywood. If it weren’t for the movie industry’s economic clout, you have to wonder if the California Supreme Court would have issued a ringing endorsement of freedom of expression in the workplace last week – one that should send a message well beyond that state. However, since defendants in the case were the producers of the once wildly popular Friends TV show, the same California court that had previously rolled back free speech in the workplace at last saw the light. It unanimously rejected the claim of a scriptwriters’ assistant that obnoxious […]

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  • ‘Lyle’ Portends Life Without Freedom, ‘Friends,’ ‘Seinfeld’

    March 10, 2005

    Every year when I attend a national conference of administrators for America’s colleges and universities, one message comes through loud and clear: claims of harassment, sexual or otherwise, are out of control. At this conference, experts review harassment case law, recent suits and settlements from across the country. They also tell horror stories of absurd harassment accusations they have battled and quote statistics placing the cost of defending just one of these suits, no matter how frivolous, at hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the average award to plaintiffs equally high. In my work at the Foundation for Individual Rights […]

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  • What Would Rachel Say?

    August 4, 2004

    Free speech “paranoids” have long warned that sexual harassment law is mushrooming out of control. Well, that fear has just been vindicated in an episode that’s as bizarre as it is disconcerting. Scriptwriters for the TV series “Friends” are being sued, successfully so far, for — get this — engaging in bawdy banter while devising script ideas for the sit-com. In the 1980s, regulations were enacted outlawing the creation of a “hostile work environment.” Narrow at first, they outlawed only “harassment” directed at individuals because of race or gender that was repeated, pervasive, and so severe as to make it […]

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  • Top court to hear ‘Friends’ harassment case: Was foul language ‘creative necessity’?

    July 22, 2004

    The final review of the long-running TV series “Friends” may be penned by the California Supreme Court. The court agreed Wednesday to decide whether writers’ sexually coarse comments on the set amounted to constitutionally protected free speech or might be considered sexual harassment of a female assistant. The justices last considered the tension between harassment laws and freedom of speech in 1999, when a divided court upheld a San Francisco judge’s ruling banning repeated racial slurs in the workplace. The current suit was filed by Amaani Lyle, who spent four months as an assistant to the writers on the show. […]

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  • Among Friends

    April 22, 2006

    The protracted battle between the First Amendment and the PC notion that we’re all entitled to go through life without being made to feel uncomfortable took an unexpected turn two days ago. The California Supreme Court — a pioneer in curtailing free speech, ostensibly to protect the “vulnerable” from “verbal harassment” — unanimously reversed a lower court decision that would have allowed a sexual harassment lawsuit to proceed to trial against the producers of the sitcom “Friends.” Amaani Lyle, a former member of the show’s scriptwriting team, based her employment discrimination claim on having been exposed to sexual humor and […]

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  • FIRE Joins Amicus Brief in ‘Friends’ Writers’ Case

    February 10, 2005

    LOS ANGELES, February 10, 2005—Since June 2004, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been part of a national coalition urging the California Supreme Court to reverse a state appellate court decision that has profoundly chilling implications for free speech. The broad coalition includes the National Association of Scholars, the Student Press Law Center, the Center for Individual Rights, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, Rubin Postaer and Associates (a prestigious advertising agency), and the Los Angeles Advertising Agencies Association, all of whom are concerned that an adverse decision in […]

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  • State’s high court hears from ‘Friends’

    June 22, 2004

    Free-speech groups want the California Supreme Court to overturn an appellate ruling that allowed a writers’ assistant for the TV comedy “Friends” to pursue a sexual harassment claim because of bawdy banter between the show’s writers. The appeals court said a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case “does not need to be a direct victim” and can pursue a sexual harassment claim exclusively on the basis of hearing speech at work that is sexual in nature. Groups protesting the decision by the California Court of Appeal in the case of Lyle vs. Warner Brothers Television Productions et. al., say the […]

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  • FIRE Joins Amicus Letter to California Supreme Court; National Coalition Opposes Chilling of Free Speech

    June 17, 2004

    SAN FRANCISCO, June 17, 2004—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has joined a national coalition that is urging the California Supreme Court to reverse a state appellate court decision that has profoundly chilling implications for free speech. FIRE joins concerned law professors and organizations in arguing that the decision in Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions et al. (Lyle) could be used to redefine a great deal of constitutionally protected expression as unprotected “harassment.” In Lyle, the California Court of Appeal held that creative discussions in which writers of the popular sitcom Friends developed ideas and created scripts […]

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