Sexual misconduct lawsuit against James Franco reaches settlement

A lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct against Academy Award-nominated actor James Franco has reached a preliminary settlement, the plaintiffs' lawyers said over the weekend.

In 2019, actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal sued Franco, his business partners and production company for allegedly sexually exploiting women who attended their acting school, Studio 4. The school, with locations in New York and Los Angeles, opened in 2014 and shut down in 2017, roughly three months before the Los Angeles Times published a story in which five women accused Franco of inappropriate behavior.

Documents about the tentative settlement were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 11, though the Associated Press first reported their contents on Saturday.

The lawsuit, obtained by the New York Times, alleged that Franco "engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior toward female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects." A plaintiff's attorney told The Washington Post at the time that "in essence, Franco took the 'casting couch' to another level by creating a 'casting class.'"

The 2018 Los Angeles Times piece chronicled multiple allegations against the actor and his acting classes, one of which included a $750 Sex Scenes master class. Former student actresses said nudity was often required and they were pressured into removing their clothes for performances, and that the school didn't follow industry rules and requirements for nude scenes. Gaal told NPR that students frequently had to upload video of auditions that involved nudity; Tither-Kaplan said one of her scenes, where she appeared topless, wound up on the Internet.

In March, Franco called the claims "false and inflammatory" and deemed the suit "a travesty of justice" in a written statement.

Allegations against Franco reached a tipping point at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, when the actor (who won the best actor trophy that night for "The Disaster Artist") wore a "Time's Up" pin on the red carpet to support a legal fund to fight sexual harassment and workplace inequality. Multiple actresses, including Ally Sheedy, tweeted about negative experiences with Franco. In two separate late-night interviews right after the show, Franco said he didn't know what Sheedy meant by her tweet. He also didn't elaborate on tweets from the other actresses beyond that they were "not accurate."

"I have my own side of this story, but I believe in, you know, these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will, you know, hold back things that I could say just because I believe in it that much," Franco said on "Late Night With Seth Meyers." "And if I have to take a knock because I'm not going to, you know, try and, you know, actively refute things, then I will, because I believe in it that much."

Franco, nominated for a best actor Oscar in 2011 for "127 Hours," which follows the true story of a mountain climber forced to amputate his own arm, recently starred in and served as executive producer for HBO's three-season drama "The Deuce," which chronicled the rise of the porn industry in New York City in the early 1970s.

A representative for the plaintiffs' law firm, Valli Kane and Vagnini, confirmed that the settlement "will be further memorialized in a Joint Stipulation of Settlement to be filed with the Court at a later date. Documents say both parties plan to file for preliminary approval of the settlement by March 15.