Lyle v. Warner Bros. Television Prods., 38 Cal. App. 4th 264 (2004)

The producers of the television show "Friends" hired Amaani Lyle as a writers’ assistant in June of 1999 and terminated her employment four months later based, they said, on her poor job performance and deficient typing skills. Among other things, Lyle alleged that she was subjected to racial and sexual harassment through offensive and bigoted comments and jokes that the writers made in her presence during the writers’ meetings. Although the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the producers/writers, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in part. The Court held that even though the writers’ jokes were not specifically directed at Lyle, she still could have been the victim of sexual harassment to the extent that she was forced to work in an atmosphere of hostility or degradation of her gender. (Among other things, Lyle testified at her deposition that the writers made "crude sex-related jokes, disparaging remarks about women and pretended to masturbate in her presence.") The Court further held that there were triable issues of fact about whether the writers’ conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive as to create a sexually hostile environment. Although the Court rejected (for purposes of summary judgment) the writers’ assertion of a "creative necessity" defense associated with their contention that they "were only doing their job," it opined that they "may be able to convince a jury [that] the artistic process for producing episodes of ‘Friends’ necessitates conduct which might be unacceptable in other contexts."