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A pair of students came forward saying that James Franco established an acting school and used it to take advantage of women, the New York Times reports. Franco and his partner, Vince Jolivette, established Studio 4 school in 2014 and grew it to two locations, one in New York City and one in Los Angeles. The defendants claim that Franco and Jolivette used their positions of power over female students. The women add that they were asked to undress in front of Franco and his friends and that students — who paid upwards of $300 a month to attend classes — got special treatment if they were willing to disrobe.
Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal filed their class-action complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The two claim that Franco and his partners "engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects."
"I can’t sleep at night knowing that my coming forward, originally, did not do the work that I wanted it to do yet," Tither-Kaplan said last year, when Franco was criticized for wearing a Time's Up Now pin at the Golden Globes. "There still has been no action, publicly, that shows me that these people know what they did is wrong and harmful and can't be repeated."
At the time, Franco had come under fire for trying to pick up an underage girl on Instagram and been accused by several women of inappropriate behavior.
"The allegations that a group of men ran a sham school and production company all to prey upon young women at the start of their careers are appalling. If these allegations are true, we hope the survivors, and all impacted by this behavior, receive some measure of justice," Amanda Harrington, vice president of communications at Time's Up Now, said in a statement. "This case lays bare that sexual harassment and abuse is about one thing: power. And if you want to finally end sexual harassment at work, you've got to fix the power dynamics at the root of it. Period. That's why Time's Up is so committed to creating a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential at work."
Court documents also describe Franco's "master class" on sex scenes. The plaintiffs allege that during auditions to participate in the special class, prospective students were pressured to engage in activities that went beyond industry standards. They add that the auditions were recorded and that Franco could review them as part of the admissions process. That situation, as well as others, "led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class," the suit reads.
The suit also outlines the conditions for auditions and classes, in which women were told "to push beyond their comfort zones" and were denied standard protection from nudity riders and other film-industry best practices for nude scenes. Tither-Kaplan and Gaal's lawsuit says that classes victimized "often young and inexperienced females" who "were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts."
The Times notes that Franco and his team were "promising [the women] roles in movies that never materialized or were never released."
The Studio 4 school closed in 2017. After accusations of Franco's sexual misconduct came up in 2018, he insisted that he was more than happy to make things right. During an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, he said, "If there's restitution to be made, I will make it. I'm here to listen and learn and change my perspective where it's off."