California Supreme Court rejects 'Friends' lawsuit

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

In the unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court tossed out a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former assistant on the TV show ''Friends.'' The woman claimed profanity-laced meetings of the show's writers, which included frank sexual discussions, resulted in harassment.

The court concluded that the sexually explicit discussions were not aimed at the woman or other female employees and were reasonable in a ''creative workplace'' that must generate television scripts for a ''an adult-oriented comedy show featuring sexual themes.''

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

Should the court rule in favor of the plaintiff, the brief said, the First Amendment might no longer protect sexually themed speech in workplaces throughout the state, including college campuses.

''At the university, frank sexual discussion and sexual images can serve important pedagogic purposes,'' the brief said.

''Under the lower court's ruling, newsroom discussions of sexual misconduct by an athlete or classroom debates about the dangers of pornography could have been the basis of a sexual harassment complaint,'' said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

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

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