February 22, 2024

HBO and Bill Maher’s production company are seeking to toss out a sexual harassment claim that is part of a lawsuit from a former Real Time with Bill Maher staffer.

“While all of Van Ham’s claims are without merit, her sexual harassment claim fails as a matter of law because (1) it is time barred, and (2) she does not plead facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action because she had failed to allege conduct that was both ‘because of’ her sex and also so ‘severe or pervasive’ that it altered the conditions of her employment,” states the defendants’ November 30 filed Demurrer without Motion to Strike to First Amended Complaint (read it here). “Accordingly, Defendants’ Demurrer should be sustained in full and without leave to amend,” the paperwork from Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp’s Adam Levin and Sandra Hanian adds.

Not rehired by the HBO chat show in the second half 2020 as Covid-19 protocols opened up production again, long time set photographer Janet Van Ham sued HBO and Maher Live on July 31 for sexual harassment and retaliation under the Federal Housing & Employment Act, as well as wrongful termination.

Calling the long running Real Time a “hostile work environment,” Van Ham, who worked on the show from 2011 to 2020, alleges repeated harassing behavior over the year from one Alex Brooks and other male crew members who were buddies of Brooks. Van Ham also spotlights how the production and CBS security at the Fairfax facility where the show is filmed did little to protect her or pursue her complaints, in her POV.

Even after Van Ham was axed from Real Time (“Van Ham is informed and believes that all former employees of RTWBM were invited back to work, and that she is the only one who was constructively terminated from the show following the March 2020 Covid shutdown,” her initial suit asserts), things seemed to go ever weirder and worse – including “Attorney Dina Zaki of Warner Media” responding to personal file request from Van Ham “arguing that Van Ham was never an employee.” The complaint goes on to say: “From November through December of 2021, HBO hired a third-party investigator to investigate Van Ham’s whistleblower and FEHA complaints to HR and the Labor Commission. The third-party investigator is the same investigator HBO always hires to downplay its misbehavior in preparation of litigation. This third-party investigator made a series of misrepresentations in its January 2021 report…”

“It is so hard being a woman on this set,” Van Ham claims Maher’s stylist Kelly Smith told her after a 2014 incident involving Brooks. “If you say something, you might get fired.”

Van Ham’s lawyers at Kane Law Firm filed a First Amended Complaint for their client in late August. The jury trial seeking FAC trimmed the initial complaint’s six claims to now four of Whistleblower Retaliation in Violation of Labor Code, Age, Sex & Gender Discrimination in Violation of FEHA, Sexual Harassment in Violation of FEHA and Retaliation in Violation of FEHA.

For now, HBO and Maher Live are only centering on stripping the sexual harassment action out of the FAC.

In fact, in their filing this week in LA Superior Court, the premium cabler and the comic’s company go on to throw responsibility for what they clearly think is a legal mess on Van Ham herself. “As a matter of law, Van Ham’s 2014 complaint about sexual harassment establishes that the she ‘knew, or through the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, [that she] was being discriminated against at the time the earlier events occurred,’” the 15-page demurrer to the FAC says, citing previous cases of a similar nature.

“As a result, there is no justification for Van Ham’s eight-year delay in pursuing legal action,” HBO and Maher’s response bluntly says, using procedure as a blunt object to smash Van Ham’s suit.

HBO and Maher Live’s MSK lawyers are requesting a January 5 hearing before LASC Judge Holly Fujie on their demurrer. A case review hearing is already scheduled in the matter for December 13.

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