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Tavis Smiley, PBS spar over host’s suspension for alleged sexual misconduct

Tavis Smiley, pictured on May 29, 2014, denies

Tavis Smiley, pictured on May 29, 2014, denies allegations of sexual misconduct. Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

Talk-show host Tavis Smiley, whose PBS program was suspended last week amid allegations that his self-described consensual relationships with employees were coercive sexual misconduct, spoke out again in more detail on what he calls his “wrongful termination.”

“I certainly understand people who have a viewpoint that any consensual relationship in the workplace is wrong,” Smiley, 53, said Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “There are some people who believe that there is no such thing as a consensual relationship in the workplace. I hear that point of view and I respect it. But there are also other points of view on this.”

He noted that the employee handbook for his company, which independently produces the PBS-distributed show, does not forbid office relationships. “I don’t know where your heart’s going to lead you,” he explained, adding, “There are millions of Americans watching this program right now who met their spouses at work.” He did not differentiate between co-worker relationships and employer-subordinate relationships.

When asked about complaints of a hostile work environment, Smiley instead described “a very intense environment. . . . That’s not for everyone. So it might be that the environment wasn’t good for you.” He said his HR department had received no complaints, and brushed aside a comment that employees had signed nondisclosure agreements and might have been afraid to come forward.

PBS responded in a statement defending its decision, saying “Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight.”

The statement continued: “Mr. Smiley even told viewers, ‘I don’t know where your heart’s going to lead you.’ PBS is certain that it should not lead to multiple sexual relationships between the owner of a company and subordinates over many years particularly where employment decisions may be linked to sex. . . . Witnesses who have bravely come forward to speak with the independent investigators retained by PBS report a fear of retribution for speaking out. PBS stands by its decision to respect the anonymity of those who are afraid to come forward publicly.”

The network added, “Mr. Smiley’s own words today coupled with the information discovered during the investigation confirms PBS’ decision to indefinitely suspend the distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley.’ ”

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