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Judge slates 'House' harassment suit for trial

A former assistant property master on "House" says while he was there, the set was dangerous and full of aggressive, macho behavior that he refused to participate in, which led to his ouster.
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

A former Universal Network Television employee might soon get to bring to a jury claims that behind the scenes of TV show "House" there's "hard-drinking, over-sexed, cussing, gun-toting males" who made life difficult for him.

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In July 2010, Carl Jones, who spent four years working as an assistant property master on the Fox medical mystery show, sued "House" producer Universal and two of its staffers, claiming that he was victim to sexual harassment and was fired when he spoke up about allegedly obnoxious behavior on the part of his supervisors. After nearly a year and a half of extensive discovery and pre-trial motions, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin indicated last week his willingness to have a jury decide whether Jones was retaliated against for objecting to a hostile workplace.

Jones makes some wild allegations in his lawsuit about backstage behavior on the show.

He targets his supervisors Tyler Patton and Mike Casey for repeated bad acts and says his genitals were groped and that he was called a "b----," "f-----," "slave," and "p----."

In the prop trailer where Jones worked, the plaintiff alleges that adult magazines and adult movies were around and that his supervisors were hard drinkers who would invite females from the wardrobe and other production departments there to engage in sexual activity. Jones alleges he was forced to clean up semen and condom wrappers and was ridiculed when he declined to go out to a nearby off-set strip club.

The set of "House" is also described as a dangerous place to work. Against Universal's policies, Patton allegedly brought a real gun there and would throw knives in-between bouts of tequila drinking.

Jones says he was fired in March 2010 by an extremely drunk Patton, after which he complained to Garret van der Meer, the show's co-executive producer/unit production manager. Jones says his complaints were ignored, and the former staffer believes that speaking up about what was going on, including contacting his union, led to retaliation, included being "blackballed from all Universal Productions."

Jones says he scored another job after his dismissal, but as a result of being placed on a blacklist, he wasn't able to get access to the Fox lot, so he then lost that second job.

Universal wanted a summary judgment dismissal of this lawsuit, saying that Jones had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, that his claims were time-barred, and that the plaintiff couldn't show "discriminatory motive based on his gender or perceived sexual orientation."

The studio said that each season was an independent one in terms of employment and that the decision to not rehire Jones for Season 7 of "House" couldn't be tied to Jones' allegations of sexual innuendo on the set. The defendant believes that Jones' theories about why he was dismissed are merely speculative. For their part, Patton and Casey vigorously denied they engaged in the above-described offensive conduct.

At a hearing last week, Judge Fruin considered some of the evidence submitted in depositions so far and tentatively decided there are enough triable issues to reject Universal's motions to dismiss discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims. He threw out claims based on the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and asked for additional briefings for a hearing scheduled for December 16. If the judge sticks to his tentative ruling, the case could be on track to be heard by a jury next year.

Jones is represented by Lawrence Organ at Equality Law, and Universal is being repped by Lori Bowman and Marrian Chang at Ogletree, Deakins.