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James Franco is responding to allegations by two former acting students who claim the actor and his business partners sexually exploited them

By Alexia Fernández
March 01, 2020 08:30 PM
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James Franco is responding to two women who claim they were sexually exploited by his now-defunct acting school.

Franco, 41, filed a demurrer, a written objection to the lawsuit filed in October by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, claiming the allegations were “salacious” and that the two were “attention-hungry,” in court documents obtained by PEOPLE.

“While the salacious allegations in the complaint have made great tabloid fodder, they are also false and inflammatory, legally baseless and brought improperly in the form of a class action largely to gain as much publicity as possible,” the demurrer stated.

“This lawsuit is a travesty of justice and the culmination of a meritless campaign that has unfairly tarnished a decent man’s hard-earned reputation,” the demurrer added.

The Oscar nominee opened his acting school, Playhouse West Studio 4, in 2014 before it closed in 2017.

James Franco
James Franco
| Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty

Tither-Kaplan accused Franco of sexually exploiting her in January 2018 alongside four other women in an article published by The Los Angeles Times.

She claimed to the newspaper that Franco removed safety guards while filming an oral sex scene on the set of the 2015 film The Long Home.

“I got it in my head pretty quickly that, OK, you don’t say ‘no’ to this guy,” she said. “I feel there was an abuse of power, and there was a culture of exploiting non-celebrity women and a culture of women being replaceable.”

In response to her allegations, Franco’s demurrer said, “Ms. Tither-Kaplan had always expressed gratitude for having been given the opportunity to work in Emmy-nominated productions with Franco, one of her teachers.”

“Tither-Kaplan was so effusive in her praise of Franco that she had posted unsolicited tweets and texts extolling Franco’s virtues, how much she admired him and how much she got out of her time at Studio 4,” the demurrer later stated, adding that Tither-Kaplan “knowingly engaged” in nude scenes with Franco.

“The casting director and others involved with those films have confirmed that all actresses, including Tither-Kaplan, were aware of the nudity scenes ahead of time, that they were constantly checking to make sure the actresses felt comfortable, that they signed nudity waivers, and that no one — including Tither-Kaplan — ever complained,” the demurrer read.

Tither-Kaplan and Gaal’s lawsuit, which they filed in October, accused Franco and his business partners of engaging 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,” according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE at the time.

The two allege the circumstances “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.” They’re suing Franco for sex discrimination, sexual harassment and fraud, among other allegations.

Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, released a statement obtained by PEOPLE at the time denying the allegations on behalf of the actor.

“This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked,” the statement read. “We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed Complaint in-depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity-seeking lawsuit.”