Two women accuse actor James Franco of sexual exploitation in lawsuit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Two women filed a civil lawsuit against Hollywood actor James Franco on Thursday, accusing him of running a bogus film school where young women eager to advance their acting careers were duped into auditioning nude or shooting explicit sex scenes.

FILE PHOTO: Director and star James Franco arrives for the gala presentation of “The Disaster Artist” at the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accused the 41-year-old, Oscar-nominated actor, currently starring in the HBO television series “The Deuce,” of exploiting aspiring actors at his now-defunct school.

Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, said in a statement that his client had not been served by the lawsuit, which he called “ill-informed.”

“James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity seeking lawsuit,” Plonsker said.

According to the lawsuit, the two women, actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, said they enrolled in Franco’s film school in 2014. They accused Franco and two other men associated with his production company and school of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, fraud and other wrongdoing.

Franco and his colleagues were “dangling the opportunity to aspiring actors of employment in film and television,” the lawsuit stated.

“Franco’s targets were even duped to pay for their exploitation through a fraudulent ‘acting school’ (Studio 4) designed to benefit Franco and his production companies wherein employment opportunities for women supposedly increased when they agreed to overt sexual acts, nudity and performing in sex scenes – often in an orgy type setting,” the lawsuit said.

Students were encouraged to pay $750 to join a sex scenes master class at the school and had to audition nude or partially nude, the lawsuit said.

After completing the class, Tither-Kaplan was offered a role in a project in which Franco appeared in an orgy scene with women. He removed plastic guards covering actresses’ vaginas while simulating oral sex, the suit said.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other women who attended the school, and seeks unspecified monetary damages.

The lawsuit also cited a comment made by Franco in early January 2018 in an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” days after he faced accusations of sexual misconduct on Twitter. He was asked on the show to comment on accusations made against him on social media.

The lawsuit, cited his comment, “If I have done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to.” The lawsuit said that Franco and others had “committed egregious wrongs” to student actors and had “done nothing to fix these wrongs.”

Franco’s best-known films include “127 hours,” “Spider-Man” and “The Disaster Artist.” At the Golden Globes ceremony on Jan. 7, 2018, Franco wore a Time’s Up movement pin supporting victims of sexual harassment.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

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