In a new report published by the New York Times, two women who once wrote for Carol’s Second Act claimed they quit the CBS sitcom over how the network and showrunners handled a complaint against executive producer David Hunt — who also happens to be married to the show’s star, Emmy winner Patricia Heaton.
Writer Broti Gupta, who left the show in September, told the Times that she complained to HR about two instances in which the 65-year-old Hunt had allegedly touched her inappropriately. In early August, following a dinner for cast and crew at a pizza restaurant in Los Angeles, Hunt allegedly hugged Gupta from the side twice. She said he went on to compliment her pants and ran his hand up her thigh as they stood in the restaurant’s valet parking area.
A lawyer for Hunt and Heaton, who have been married since 1990 and have four sons, told the newspaper that the British actor, director and producer “did not remember the details as described.”
Attorney Bryan Freedman added that Hunt “does not recall rubbing anyone’s thigh or leg and he disputes that characterization of it.”
Weeks later, Gupta said she was sitting in a chair on set next to writer and co-executive producer Margee Magee, who left the sitcom in October. The women claim that Hunt, who appeared to be looking for something, took Gupta by the shoulders and “jerked” her forward, prompting Magee to say, “Excuse me.” Hunt, they told the Times, did not respond.
Freeman, Hunt and Heaton’s lawyer, said that his client “remembers looking for a script but does not remember the detail of touching anyone’s shoulders, and if he did that, it was not intended to be offensive.”
After the second alleged incident, Gupta confided in Magee about her experience. Magee encouraged her to air her concerns to Carol’s Second Act showrunners Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern, who went on to alert CBS and its internal HR department. The network, which was rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct from the likes of news anchor Charlie Rose and former chairman Les Moonves, introduced new sexual harassment reporting guidelines in May, according to the Times, and vowed to “ensure safety and build trust."
Gupta said she met with HR executive Ellen Goldsmith, who she claimed told her that an investigation had backed up her report of the chair incident and that “she had no reason to doubt” the writer’s account of the first incident at the restaurant. Gupta reportedly told Goldsmith that she preferred to see Hunt undergo sexual harassment training rather than lose his job.
“I told them just my own personal code of ethics, which is that if there is space for education instead of punitive measures, then I believe in education,” Gupta told the paper.
According to the Times, Hunt completed sexual harassment training on Oct. 1 and received a “closure letter” from CBS which reportedly stated, “Your behavior caused the individual who raised the concerns to feel genuinely uncomfortable in the workplace and it reflected a disregard for CBS’s policies and guidance in the matter. You are hereby cautioned not to engage in such behavior.”
But by that time, Gupta had already quit in protest — with Magee soon to follow, later in October — over concerns that they were being punished for raising the issue. Days after Gupta’s last HR meeting about Hunt, writers on Carol’s Second Act were told that they could not attend that day’s rehearsal, and would no longer be individually allowed to workshop jokes to showrunners. Andrew Brettler, the lawyer representing showrunners Haskins and Ms. Halpern, told the Times that the changes affecting writers had been devised prior to Gupta’s complaint, in an effort to tamp down on-set chaos, and that the timing of the announcement coming on the heels of her HR talks were “a coincidence.”
While CBS backed the showrunners, Gupta said the changes in procedure felt like an effort to separate her from Hunt and “gave me no option but to leave the show.”
In a lengthy Twitter thread posted Saturday, a “disappointed, heartbroken and devastated” Gupta accused Haskins and Halpern of admitting to others that they’d taked “retaliatory actions” against her over the Hunt complaint.
After my departure, they admitted the same — that my reporting took us off set — to their staff.
— broti gupta (@BrotiGupta) November 16, 2019
This has been a devastating experience for me that could have been extremely easy had my asks been respected. Unfortunately, Sarah and Emily made choices that destroyed my sense of self and my feeling of value in the workplace. I still urge them to learn from this and do better.
— broti gupta (@BrotiGupta) November 16, 2019
Gupta’s tweets appear to be in reaction to the statement the showrunners gave to the Times.
“To be clear, we have never done and would never do anything to penalize or retaliate against anyone who raised these concerns,” Haskins and Halpern said. “We are devastated that many of the inflammatory claims that have been made about us are simply not tethered to the reality of what happened.”
Magee also said that she faced professional fallout on the set before making the decision to leave, a claim CBS has denied.
“Our human resources team always endeavors to address issues in a professional and sensitive manner, and we must clarify that certain allegations about them have either been misstated or taken wholly out of context,” the network said in response to claims that HR representatives mishandled the situation.
Both women have hired an attorney to make sure they are paid the amount owed to them according to their contracts, which CBS has reportedly agreed to do.
Neither Hunt nor Heaton has publicly addressed the Times report.
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