Good News For TV Writers

The California State Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit by a writer’s assistant against the writers  and producers of FRIENDS. The assistant charged that the sexually explicit jokes and anecdotes shared among the writers in the writer’s room created a "hostile work environment." (You can read the full text of the decision here)

Because "Friends" was an "adult-oriented comedy show featuring sexual
themes," Lyle should have expected coarse language from writers producing jokes
and scripts for the show, the Supreme Court held in its ruling.

While the Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits conduct that creates a
hostile or abusive workplace for women, it does not outlaw "sexually coarse and
vulgar language that merely offends," the high court said.

The case raised questions of how far TV comedy writers can go in pushing the
boundaries of taste in their private joke-writing sessions, with supporters of
the writers and producers arguing that Lyle’s suit infringed on their freedom of

The high court declined to address the free-speech issues raised in the

"We have no occasion to determine whether liability for such language might
infringe on free speech rights," the court held.

The show’s writers claimed Lyle was fired because she was a slow typist who
often missed the jokes she was supposed to transcribe.

3 thoughts on “Good News For TV Writers”

  1. Although this seems like an obvious result, the lower appellate court had ruled that the plaintiff could state a case against the production company.
    There’s an interesting concurring opinion by Justice Ming Chin addressing the First Amendment and creative issues involved, drawing extensively on the amici curae briefs filed by the Writers Guild and others.
    The opinion can be found at

  2. As a comedy writer who could have been sued over a billion times myself I applaud the decision. I’ve posted my reaction on my blog and now can turn my attention to the more important things at hand — like Courtney Cox genital jokes.

  3. Page 25: “Moreover, although plaintiff contended in her deposition that much of the three writers’ vulgar discussions and conduct wasted her time, there was no indication the conduct affected the work hours or duties of plaintiff and her male counterparts in a disparate manner.
    The vulgar discussions “wasted her time”???


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