SAG fines actor, but will case resonate?
It’s been roughly one year since Sarah Scott went to the Screen Actors Guild to report sexual harassment on set. She went to the union just days after an incident with Kip Pardue, her costar in an independent television pilot, in which she alleged he had forced her to touch his penis during a sex scene and later masturbated in front of her in a dressing room.
Filing her account with SAG seemed like her best recourse. She didn’t want money from Pardue, so a lawsuit seemed costly and time-consuming. And though she filed a police report about the May 2018 incident, she told the authorities she wasn’t interested in pressing charges.
Instead, she wanted to focus on the union — the closest thing Scott felt there was to human resources in Hollywood — and, in hopes of making change within the industry, have it weigh in on what she said happened on the Manhattan Beach set.
Nearly a year after the misconduct allegedly occurred, SAG gave Scott her answer.
Following a private hearing in front of the union’s disciplinary committee March 20, the union ruled that Pardue was “guilty of serious misconduct in violation” of the SAG-AFTRA constitution, according to a letter Scott was sent that she provided to The Times.
But how much change the verdict will bring remains an open question.
The notice of the decision, which was addressed to Pardue but copied to Scott, told the actor the SAG committee “censures and admonishes you for this inappropriate and unprofessional conduct.”
As a result of his behavior, which the union said was “inconsistent” with its code of conduct on sexual harassment, Pardue was fined $6,000. However, the union said, if he took an online workplace sexual harassment training module within 90 days, he would pay SAG $3,000. (The fine will be deposited into the union’s general treasury.)
Further consequences could follow if Pardue was found guilty of similar conduct within five years, the ruling decreed. No record of the decision will be made public or provided by SAG to anyone Pardue works with, though the union did not instruct Scott to keep the judgment private.
A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson would not elaborate further “on specifics regarding disciplinary matters due to the confidentiality of such cases.”
Scott’s case offers rare insight into SAG’s disciplinary process, which is typically used as a way to adjudicate charges of discrimination, sexual harassment or nonunion work that violates the union’s constitution or membership regulations.
But because the proceedings are confidential, the outcome of the member-to-member hearings doesn’t always have visible effects outside union headquarters.
Though Pardue, for instance, has been reprimanded and penalized by the guild, it remains to be seen whether that judgment will have any practical effect on his career.
All of which leaves Scott feeling ambivalent about how her case was handled.
“Overall, I’m OK with it, but it’s a weird feeling. I don’t know if I’m supposed to feel good about the punishment or not,” she said. “I would have liked to have seen a couple of years’ suspension, but this is a step in the right direction. What was the most important for me was that others who come forward in the future know that the union is willing to take these complaints seriously and create a space where they can be heard.”
Through his lawyer, Shepard Kopp, Pardue declined to answer questions about the hearing, but his representative said the actor had “never engaged in any nonconsensual behavior.”
The situation is further complicated by the fact that during the March disciplinary hearing, another actress came forward with similar claims of harassment against Pardue.
Last October, The Times published a story in which Scott shared her allegations against the actor, who is still a cast member on Marvel’s Hulu series “Runaways.” The article was read by Andrea Bogart, an actress who knew Scott casually through the L.A. audition circuit.
Bogart proceeded to contact both Scott and The Times to share that in April 2014, she filmed a few episodes of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” with Pardue. The two played spouses on the cable series.
At one point, they were preparing to shoot a “pretty racy” foursome sex scene with Hank Azaria and Sherilyn Fenn, Bogart recalled.
After blocking the scene — in which Bogart was wearing “pasties and fish-wire underwear” — the actress returned to her trailer. That’s when, she told The Times, Pardue knocked on her door and asked if he could come in.
“So he comes in and then out of left field, he starts talking about how crazy the scene is and unbuttoning his pants,” Bogart said. “He pulls out his genitalia and starts rubbing himself. I remember just covering my face and being like, ‘What are you doing?’ I was embarrassed and in utter shock.”
She said that Pardue then asked her to touch him, which she declined to do. Then, she said, he asked her to touch herself; again, she declined. She urged him to go to his own trailer, which he eventually did.
Pardue’s lawyer denied that Pardue has ever engaged in nonconsensual behavior but did not respond specifically to questions about Bogart’s account.
“Of course,” Bogart said, she considered reporting the behavior to the producers, but she was worried about her career being “ruined.”
“I was still climbing and grinding away, and this was my first part on a [popular] show. I didn’t trust that it wouldn’t do negative things for me,” Bogart said. “Like, are they gonna think I invited him in my trailer? I just wanted it to go away as quickly as possible.”
The only person Bogart told about the “Ray Donovan” encounter was her longtime friend Erin Myers, whom she called later that day.
“She said she’d froze because she was so uncomfortable and confused,” Myers said. “I told her, ‘I think you need to tell somebody,’ but she was so traumatized.”
So nearly five years later, when Bogart read about Scott, she decided to come forward to support her fellow actress.
Ari Wilkenfeld, a lawyer who has been provided and paid for by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, asked Bogart whether she would be willing to testify against Pardue during the March disciplinary hearing. She agreed and wrote up her allegations in a notarized affidavit, which was provided to SAG’s legal department before the hearing.
The union did not ask Bogart to provide corroborating evidence of her account. Although the union encourages parties to its disciplinary process to voluntarily share evidence before the hearing, there is no formal discovery process.
Pardue was not made aware in advance that Bogart would be one of Scott’s witnesses, and when his legal team found out mid-hearing, they objected. The five members of the SAG disciplinary committee present then halted the proceedings for an hour to deliberate, but ultimately allowed Bogart to share her story via video conference.
Both Scott and Pardue — each of whom had legal representation — were allotted an hour to present their cases, bring forward witnesses (Pardue had none) and cross-examine one another.
Pardue continued to deny that he had ever masturbated in front of Scott on set. He did admit that he had placed the actress’ hand on his erect penis during their sex scene, but “he painted it as a welcome gesture,” Wilkenfeld said.
“He painted Sarah as a sexually aggressive female,” the lawyer said, “and himself as doe-eyed, embarrassed and not sure what to do.”
The only paper exhibit that Pardue’s team entered into evidence was a photograph of Scott breastfeeding her child. Scott said she had once scrolled past the picture while showing Pardue her public Instagram account, adding that Pardue’s team was now using the image to show that “Sarah was either extremely free about her sexuality or using the picture to signal to Kip that she was interested,” Wilkenfeld said. “It’s that worn-out defense of harassment victims asking for it.”
Pardue’s lawyer said that Scott and her legal team had misrepresented the hearing “in many respects,” omitting “important details such as that Ms. Scott contradicted her own sworn statement and retracted her prior version of events.” The lawyer declined to specify how Scott had contradicted herself.
But “if the so-called ‘inconsistencies’ were in any way material,” Wilkenfeld responded, “you can be sure that Mr. Pardue’s attorney would have identified them and not just alluded to them.”
Kopp also noted that his client had passed a polygraph examination proving his innocence; Wilkenfeld countered that “polygraph results are inadmissible in virtually every court in this country.” (Polygraphs are admissible in a number of states, but are subject to extensive restrictions on their use.)
Scott, meanwhile, is tired of the mudslinging. She acknowledged that the hearing was “triggering and emotional” but feels good that the union ultimately took her charges seriously enough to hold an inquiry.
“I just want people like myself to feel that there is a place to report these things,” she said. “No matter how vulnerable I felt, I want people to understand that there will be consequences.”
The way that the union handles sexual misconduct is at issue in the August contest for SAG president.
In her bid for reelection, Gabrielle Carteris — who has been the top national officer since 2016 — has emphasized the Four Pillars of Change initiative she instituted in February 2018. As part of that action, a new code of conduct on sexual harassment was established, including a guideline that called for the end of industry meetings in private homes and hotels.
Carteris’ opponent, “Full Metal Jacket” star Matthew Modine, is arguing the union still needs to do more, promising in his campaign material he would implement “stronger safeguards, easier reporting mechanisms, and stricter penalties” for sexual misconduct and abuse.
“This is clearly a developing thing for SAG — this is new, and they’re getting the hang of it,” Wilkenfeld said. “We don’t know if this punishment was too severe or lenient. But mostly, I’m impressed they’re doing it at all and made a finding. It’s a mixed message, but it is a message nonetheless: Harassment is bad.”