Eliza Dushku is speaking out about sexual harassment in the workplace.
The 40-year-old actress testified to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday about suffering “near constant sexual harassment” while appearing in CBS’s Bull and being “fired in silence when I attempted to address it.”
The hearing, titled “Silenced: How Forced Arbitration Keeps Victims of Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in the Shadows,” was held for lawmakers weighing new legislation to eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer and civil rights cases. Dushku, who accused co-star Michael Weatherly of harassment, was fired within 24 hours of complaining. When she fought it, she was forced into arbitration, per her contract. Her reported settlement, $9.5 million settlement, which was roughly the pay-out of her contract, resulted in a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that barred her from discussing the case publicly.
Because Dushku was testifying, she was able to give more detail than her NDA agreement typically permits. She detailed how CBS “aggressively pursued” her for the role of J.P. Nunnelly, which she was told had been created for her.
The very first week, in 2017, however, she said the harassment started with “crude, sexualized and lewd verbal assaults” by Weatherly, 53. She said it was “near constant sexual harassment” and “unlike anything else” she had experienced on a set as a working actor since the age of 9.
Dushku made a six-year commitment to appear on the show playing a smart, strong, confident lawyer. She claimed that Weatherly, also a producer, would call her “Legs,” smell her and “leeringly” look her up and down.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel alum recalled how once, in front of 100 cast and crew members, Weatherly said he would, “Take me to his rape van and use lube and long phallic things on me, and take me over his knee and spank me like a little girl.” Another time, he told her his “sperm were powerful swimmers.”
Dushku talked about how “demeaning” it was and how she “dreaded going to work.” She feared pushing back would put her “job at risk” and hurt her professional reputation.
She said things reached a peak when she delivered a courtroom monologue that she put a lot of preparation into. When she finished the scene, she said Weatherly shouted that he and his buddy wanted to have a threesome with her. They “began mock penis jousting while the camera was still rolling,” she said.
The toxicity spread, she said. During a coffee break, she said a crew member came up to her and said, “I’m with Bull,” the name of Weatherly’s character, Dr. Jason Bull. “I want to have a threesome with you too.”
Dushku was “horrified” and took to dressing down for work in loose clothes, including sweats borrowed from her husband. After discussing the situation with her manager, she decided to speak with Weatherly directly and did, nervously asking him to be her ally — and tone down the sexualized comments.
“He responded in feign shock, ‘No one is more respectful of women than me. I grew up with sisters,'” she said.
She later learned that 40 minutes after that exchange, Weatherly texted the head of CBS Studios saying Dushku had a “humor deficit” and he didn’t want her on the show. Even though the studio head replied that Dushku was “great and made the show better,” she was fired the next day.
She said due to a mandatory arbitration clause in her contract — which she didn’t know existed — she was “silenced” and forced into arbitration when she pursued legal action.
“I’ve worked as an actress since I was a child and signed countless contracts negotiated on my behalf, but never understood that there were mandatory arbitration clauses that would be used to keep what had happened to me a secret and would protect CBS and the sexual harassment perpetrator, who had blatantly retaliated against me for trying the stop the harassment in my workplace,” Dushku said.
“I was shocked to learn that I signed away my rights to a public forum before taking a job,” she said. “Who would ever think up such a clause? Who were these clauses meant to favor and protect? It suddenly became very clear: Not me.”
Dushku said that while there was even video surfaced of the harassment “captured verbatim on the tapes,” it’s all under lock and key due to the arbitration clause.
In 2018, Dushku reached the reported $9.5 million settlement, which was approximately what she was to make if she stayed on the show. However, she said it doesn’t make up for what happened to her reputation for speaking up — and not being able to have her day in court.
“To this day whenever my career, my life’s work, is referenced, my accomplishments as an actor are ignored,” she said. “I’ve been reduced to being ‘Eliza Dushku, the actress who was paid off for allegedly being sexually harassed on a TV series.’ … This was not the outcome I desired or ever expected, but because of binding arbitration there will never be real justice for me and for countless other victims of sexual harassment and assault.”
Bull, starring Weatherly, continues to air on CBS. For his part, he publicly denied having anything to do with Dushku being written off the show. However, he admitted to have engaged in behavior that was “both not funny and not appropriate” and said he was sorry for “the pain this caused Eliza.”