In House of Cards, Kevin Spacey has a real talent for making the viewer root for a truly horrible person, Francis Underwood. But can he get people behind him now?
According to The Blast, Spacey is claiming that Netflix fired him too quickly after claims came out that he committed sexual misconduct with a then-14-year-old Anthony Rapp and that they don't have the legal ability to do so. They write:
Sources close to the situation tell us the actor does not have a morality clause in his contract that would trigger a suspension or termination from the production based upon personal actions.
We're told Spacey's contract states the only way he can be suspended or fired from the show would be if he becomes "unavailable" or "incapacitated" to fulfill his obligations with production.
A Netflix spokesperson responded to my inquiries with the following statement:
Netflix will not be involved with any further production of House of Cards that includes Kevin Spacey. We will continue to work with MRC [the show's production company] during this hiatus time to evaluate our path forward as it relates to the show. We have also decided we will not be moving forward with the release of the film Gore, starring Kevin Spacey, which was in post-production.
Another Case of "The Rich and Famous Aren't Like Us"
You don't have a morality clause in your contract either, largely because it would be highly unlikely for you to have a contract--unless you're in a union. Contracted employees are few and far between in the United States, where everywhere but Montana has "at-will" employment.
This means you can be fired for any reason or no reason, as long as it's not prohibited by law. So, your boss can technically fire you for not tying your shoes, but he can't fire you for being Hispanic. This at-will employment goes both ways--you can also quit for any reason or no reason, and you can quit because your boss doesn't tie his shoes and because your boss is Hispanic. (Of course, if you're quitting for a racist reason, your company will probably be happy to see you go.)
Hollywood stars, though, work through contracts. We hear a lot about the pay side of contracts, but in reality, there is a whole host of other clauses that go into these. Morality clauses allow companies to break contracts with stars who do, well, immoral things.
They used to be much more common, but now, not so much.
Contracts may not have morality clauses routinely anymore, but they do specify the conditions under which parties can walk away. Remember, this is a two-way contract--Spacey can't just walk out in the middle of production either. (You can see why the film industry prefers contracts to at-will employment.)
What Happens if One Party Breaks the Contract?
Contracts will have consequences written in. Most likely, in this case, Netflix would have to pay Spacey out for the terms of his contract. However, Spacey isn't the only contracted employee on the House of Cards set. There is a domino effect set to play out here. Depending on how other contracts were written, the consequences will vary.
If the courts determine that Spacey legally must be paid out for his contract, as it was illegally broken, it could affect how the other cast members must be treated. In other words, firing Spacey wasn't an easy fix.
What About Bad Behavior at Work?
After the original allegations broke, CNN received allegations of Spacey misbehaving on set from eight different people. CNN shared this story:
A former camera assistant, who said he witnessed Spacey's behavior but was never harassed by Spacey, said the touching largely occurred in an open space and that "everybody saw."
"All the crew members commented on his behavior," the former camera assistant said. "What gets me is we have to sign sexual harassment paperwork before the start of the show and apparently [Kevin Spacey] doesn't have to do anything and he gets away scot-free with this behavior." CNN confirmed that Spacey was given guidelines regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.
Colleagues never complained because they were afraid of losing their jobs, the former camera assistant said.
"Who is going to believe crew members?" he said. "You're going to get fired."
This problem is certainly not limited to Hollywood stars. Earlier this year, Susan Fowler's accusations brought Uber CEO Travis Kalanick down, but only after her complaints were ignored. Her complaints weren't the only ones, which is why, when her article went viral, the story broke wide open.
Management is legally obligated to investigate sexual harassment claims. Of course, the crazy thing is, sexual behavior only qualifies as harassment if it is unwanted. If you're thrilled that big star is pinching your behind, it's not sexual harassment. If no one complained, the company's liability is much different than if someone complained and they didn't act.