**Trigger warning: this article contains references to sexual assault and misconduct that some readers may find distressing.
James Franco has agreed to pay USD $2,235,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleges he coerced acting students to perform in increasingly explicit sex scenes on camera. While the actual case was settled in February 2021, the amount the actor agreed to pay was only made public via court records on June 30th. A Los Angeles judge will still need to approve the settlement’s terms.
Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, who both participated in Franco’s acting class, instigated the lawsuit in October 2020 — claiming that the Spring Breakers star and his associates Vince Jolivette and Jay Davis used their acting school (which is now closed) to “foster widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behaviour towards female students by sexualising their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.”
Their complaint alleged that those who were taught by Franco and company were the victims of fraud. What makes this particular case unusual – especially in comparison with the slew of other #MeToo era lawsuits – is that it was carried out as a class-action suit, enabling the results of the settlement to be made public.
As per the terms of the settlement, Tither-Kaplan will receive US$670,500, minus US$223,500 in legal fees, Gaal will get US$223,500, minus US$74,500 to her lawyers. And the other students would get almost two-thirds of the remainder of US $1.341 million, with around US$827,000 going to the lawyers. Under these same terms, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal must release their claims against Franco, Jolivette and Davis.
As part of the settlement, the parties have also agreed to a statement that reads in part: “While Defendants continue to deny the allegations in the Complaint, they acknowledge that Plaintiffs have raised important issues; and all parties strongly believe that now is a critical time to focus on addressing the mistreatment of women in Hollywood.
“All agree on the need to make sure that no one in the entertainment industry — regardless of race, religion, disability, ethnicity, background, gender or sexual orientation — faces discrimination, harassment or prejudice of any kind.”
Tither-Kaplan and Gaal are not the only women to accuse Franco of sexual misconduct – the actor has been dogged by allegations since 2014 when a 17-year-old girl released screenshots of Instagram direct messages between the pair, appearing to prove that Franco had tried to organise a hotel room rendezvous with her, even after learning that her age (he was 35 at the time).
Violet Paley, who had previously been in a relationship with Franco, also claimed that he had once forced her to give him oral sex in a car while they were dating.
The controversy surrounding Franco lead to his former friend and collaborator Seth Rogen publicly announcing that he would be distancing himself from the actor and had no intention of working with him again. Busy Phillips, who appeared with both Rogen and Franco on Freaks and Geeks made a similar statement.
The news of Franco’s settlement amount came on the same day as disgraced comedian Bill Cosby was released from prison after the sexual assault charge for which he was convicted in 2018, was overturned. Cosby served just three years of the prison sentence that was handed down to him for the 2005 sexual assault of basketball star Andrea Nostrand.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, please contact the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence National Help Line on 1800 Respect (1800 737 732) or head to The Australian Human Rights Commission for a list of state by state resources.