In 2017, as bombshell after bombshell dropped regarding abusive behavior by powerful men in various industries, the demand for transparency and accountability came to the fore of public discourse. Women from all walks of life stood up in solidarity to share personal stories about mistreatment by their male colleagues, particularly in entertainment workplaces, ultimately bringing social movements like MeToo and Time’s Up to global prominence. Among the women in Hollywood who found herself fighting back was actress Eliza Dushku. After appearing on three episodes of CBS’ legal drama, Bull, and despite discussions of having her become a full-time cast member, her character was suddenly written off the show with no explanation. A short time later, life would be imitating art as CBS, Dushku, and one of her male co-stars were embroiled in legal drama of their own.
What Happened On the Set of ‘Bull’?
Revolving around the titular character Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly), a trial consultant alleged to be partially based on Dr. Phil McGraw, Bull debuted in September 2016 and quickly became one of CBS’ more popular series. As its first season wrapped up, Eliza Dushku, a decades-long veteran of film and television, joined the cast as defense lawyer J.P. Nunnelly. Per The New York Times, she was initially contracted to earn $35,000 per episode, and there were “well-developed plans” to expand her character beyond Bull‘s first season. According to the actress, however, her short-lived stint on the series was plagued by multiple incidents in which Weatherly allegedly targeted her with sexual harassment.
Dushku claimed that the abuse began with Weatherly blatantly making comments about her physical appearance as well as off-color remarks referencing physical contact, all within clear view and earshot of fellow cast and crew members. Over time, his behavior became more egregious and involved telling inappropriate jokes alluding to sexual activity and assault. Given that Weatherly was the star of the show and wielded some semblance of influence over his peers, his behavior not only went unchecked by colleagues but in some cases was even validated and echoed, according to statements Dushku made to investigators. As her work environment gradually but surely became more distressing, Dushku approached producer, writer, and eventual showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron to voice concerns about what she’d experienced. But the revelations surrounding Weatherly’s behavior put CBS on the offensive, and the actress suddenly found herself in the network’s cross-hairs.
Eliza Dushku Was Fired After Alleging Workplace Harassment
After speaking with Caron, Dushku approached Weatherly about his misbehavior. The actor promptly reached out to then-president of CBS Television Studios, David Stapf, and just days later, Dushku was written off the show on the supposed basis that Caron didn’t know how to incorporate her character into the show any longer. The producer-turned-showrunner would later claim, “The idea that our not exercising her option to join the series was in any way punitive just couldn’t be further from the truth.” Weatherly would also deny having any role in his co-star’s sudden departure: “It’s my recollection that I didn’t tell anyone how they should do their job regarding the hiring or firing of anybody.”
To add insult to injury, Dushku alleged that she was further targeted by Weatherly as Bull‘s cast and crew celebrated the wrap of its first season. As the series star headlined a toast with champagne among his colleagues, he reportedly singled Dushku out, saying, “We need you, the most beautiful woman, to come grab the raffle ticket.” Feeling “embarrassed and humiliated” by the circumstances of her final moments with Bull, the actress sought an ally in Leslee Feldman. An executive with Amblin Television, one of the production companies behind the series, Feldman responded with, “If Steven (Spielberg) ever knew about this, he would be so horrified.” Though she’d been demeaned and fired, Dushku refused to go quietly and pushed back against the powerful people who’d brushed her aside.
CBS Settled With Eliza Dushku for $9.5 Million
By 2018, as the MeToo and Time’s Up movements had gained a great deal of momentum with the fall of Harvey Weinstein and others in entertainment, Eliza Dushku had been engaging in a behind-the-scenes tussle with CBS and its Bull affiliates. An investigation was launched and Mark Engstrom, the network’s head compliance officer, released outtakes from Bull for review. The footage, as put by The New York Times, revealed a “gold mine” and “actually captured some of the harassment on film,” providing a bevy of evidence on the actress’ behalf. Caught red-handed, CBS, Amblin Television, and Weatherly would be held accountable. In December 2018, it was revealed the network had settled with Dushku for the approximate amount she would’ve earned had she stayed on Bull for four seasons: $9.5 million.
Responding to the news of their settlement, CBS released a statement saying, “The allegations in Ms. Dushku’s claims are an example that, while we remain committed to a culture defined by a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, our work is far from done.” Echoing the sentiment was Weatherly, who put out his own statement acknowledging his inappropriate behavior: “When Eliza told me that she wasn’t comfortable with my language and attempt at humor, I was mortified to have offended her and immediately apologized. After reflecting on this further, I better understand that what I said was both not funny and not appropriate and I am sorry and regret the pain this caused Eliza.” As part of the settlement agreement, Dushku would no longer be permitted to discuss the ordeal publicly, but her perseverance paid off in more ways than one, shining an eye-opening light on an institutional problem at the network with widespread implications.
Eliza Dushku Also Alleged Mistreatment On the Set of ‘True Lies’
Nearly a year before her settlement was announced, Dushku recounted an incident that allegedly took place while filming True Lies in 1993. According to the actress, who was 12 when she appeared in James Cameron‘s film, 36-year-old stunt coordinator Joel Kramer made inappropriate advances toward her. She also alleged that after informing an adult of the incident, Kramer was confronted and, as retaliation, he may have been indirectly responsible for an injury she sustained on-set. Though Kramer denied any wrongdoing, he was subsequently dropped from Worldwide Production Agency when Dushku’s allegations surfaced. Her claims were further confirmed by Sue Booth-Forbes, who served as the actress’ guardian on the film’s production.
Though stories of abuse and harassment of women at the hands of powerful men are a blight on the history of the entertainment industry, strides of improvement have been made possible by numerous individuals speaking out in recent years. With the high demand for accountability taking effect since 2017, Dushku’s experiences on Bull comprise just one of many examples of similar kinds of treatment that have ultimately contributed to catalyzing change in the workplace. One can only hope her unwillingness to sit idly by amid such misbehavior has helped pave the way for others to step forward, raise awareness, and pursue justice.