Actress Sarah Scott reported sexual misconduct on a Hollywood set and found a difficult path to a resolution
Sarah Scott was lying under the covers wearing only nipple covers and boy shorts when, she says, her co-star Kip Pardue became aroused. She could tell because he took her hand and placed it on his groin just as they were about to film a post-coital scene for an independent television pilot, “Mogulettes.”
She was shocked by his behavior, particularly because it happened on May 16, mere months after hundreds of allegations of sexual misconduct had been made against powerful men in Hollywood.
Still, Scott shot the scene. When filming was done, she says Pardue called her into his dressing room, where he proceeded to masturbate in front of her.
“I literally froze,” Scott, 35, recalls. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’”
“This isn’t a #MeToo thing,” she alleges he responded. “I’m not your employer. It’s not like I can fire you.”
Scott says she ran out of the room. She had been a working actress for more than 14 years, appearing on episodes of popular television shows such as “True Blood” and “Castle,” but had never experienced a co-star doing something like this. Pardue, who is a series regular on Marvel’s Hulu series “The Runaways,” has appeared in films such as “Remember the Titans” and “The Rules of Attraction” over his two-decade career. The pilot they were filming did not yet have a network or streaming partner attached, but producers hoped to attract interest after it was completed.
As Scott encountered Pardue while preparing to leave the set of “Mogulettes,” she says she asked him why he had masturbated in front of her. She says he told her it was because she was “just so hot.”
When contacted by The Times, Pardue apologized for placing Scott’s hand on his penis during their scene together. But he denied everything the actress alleges that happened after the scene was completed.
“I clearly misread the situation during a sex scene on set and have apologized to Sarah,” Pardue, 43, said in a statement provided by his representative, David Shane. “I never intended to offend her in any way and deeply regret my actions and have learned from my behavior.”
When Scott returned home from the set that day, she told her husband what had happened. It was the first of many times she would share her story.
From reaching out to the show’s producers, the Screen Actors Guild and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund to filing a police report with the Hermosa Beach Police Department, Scott did everything she thought she was supposed to do — following all of the protocols that had been touted by the entertainment industry in the wake of last fall’s reckoning.
“How can I be part of the solution? How can I do right by my community?” she recalls thinking at the time. “What can I do that’s actually going to make a dent in preventing this guy from doing this again?”
But for five months, she was frustrated by what she saw as slow movement and conflicting advice from industry and production leaders. After nearly a year of industry hand-wringing and fundraising, of hotline and subcommittee creation, of vows by guilds and studios, she says she feels Hollywood remains a business with many temporary workplaces overseen by a wide variety of people with varying degrees of authority.
After sharing the story with her husband, Scott says the next people she reported the incident to were “Mogulettes” director Dave Fraunces and producer Mandy Henderson.
“Sarah asked to speak with [us] the moment she got on set,” Fraunces says. “I did not suspect anything like that had occurred until Sarah mentioned it to me. I was shocked.”
Pardue had completed his work on the set and the project’s executive producer, Bennett Talsky, says he reported the claims to a SAG-AFTRA business representative. Talsky, whose background is in construction consulting, was segueing into entertainment for the first time with “Mogulettes” and says he felt unsure of the protocol to follow. He called both actors to get their version of events, but Pardue “danced around the whole thing and never admitted to it,” Talsky says.
“He was trying to justify it, saying they had really good chemistry and he got carried away,” Talsky adds. “It didn’t get anywhere, and I didn’t really confront him — I was just trying to feel him out and see if he felt like he had screwed up.”
What can I do that’s actually going to make a dent in preventing this guy from doing this again?
— Sarah Scott, actress
On May 21, Scott decided to personally follow up with SAG-AFTRA. She searched the union’s website and determined she should get in touch with the union’s Equal Employment Opportunities and Diversity Department. The man who answered the phone said he was new to the department but requested that Scott recount the entire on-set incident with Pardue, which she did. She was told that she would soon be contacted by Donna Reed, the department coordinator.
The following day, she connected with Reed, who presented her with a number of resources via email.
“While this is not intended to pass judgment on anyone involved, I am terribly sorry for what you experienced,” said Reed’s May 22 email, which Scott provided to The Times. “If anyone who believes they were subjected to unlawful harassment, the fact that they do not remain silent empowers us all to shine a light in the dark and take action against this behavior so that it is less likely to be repeated.”
Reed listed a number of options for Scott. She could make a member-to-member union complaint, which would be handled by SAG-AFTRA’s legal department. She could file a police report with the L.A. Police Department. She could contact a lawyer via the union’s free legal hotline or the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. She could seek therapeutic counseling through the Actors Fund or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN.
Scott felt overwhelmed. She didn’t feel that she needed to call the crisis center. She was unsure if going to the police would make a difference. And she didn’t want to sue Pardue for any financial gain. She just wanted to help make the industry safer for women.
She thought her best move might be to file a member-to-member complaint with SAG-AFTRA. Per Reed’s suggestion, Scott reached out to the organization’s legal department and was connected with Delia Aparicio, senior counsel at SAG-AFTRA. Again, she was asked to recount the incident.
“I feel like her intentions were good, but it was clear that she was very inexperienced with this particular kind of process,” Scott recalls. “If I had a question about confidentiality — ‘Can I talk to the media? Can I talk to agents and managers about this?’ — she kept saying, ‘I’m going to have to check on that.’”
Scott also says she was told by Aparicio, who declined multiple requests to comment for this story, that if she pursued the member-to-member route, “you’re probably not gonna be satisfied.”
“The feeling I got was, ‘It’s really not worth your time,’” says Scott, who was told the process typically takes six to nine months. “And yet that was the only thing you could do through SAG.”
Although Aparicio did not speak with The Times about Scott’s description of their communication, Pamela Greenwalt, SAG-AFTRA’s chief communications and marketing officer, provided an overview of the member-to-member reporting process, referring to an article in the union’s constitution about “Discipline of Members.”
“Legal and disciplinary matters are strictly confidential and thus, as is customary, SAG-AFTRA declined to comment on your specific inquiry,” Greenwalt said on behalf of the guild.
After her conversation with Aparicio, Scott says she sought advice from a few trusted individuals. One of them was Kevin Kane, an actor and comedian who frequently collaborates with Amy Schumer. Because of Schumer’s involvement with Time’s Up, he thought the actress could help. With Scott’s permission, he told Schumer on May 24 about the situation and Schumer texted Kane with direct contact information for Time’s Up and SAG-AFTRA representatives.
The Emmy-winning comedian says she feels the union has a “long way to go” to ensure safety on set, in auditions and rehearsals.
“Most actresses I know have experienced violations on set of a sexual nature, including myself,” Schumer told The Times. “You can be shooting a scene — or even auditioning a scene and your scene partner can take it too far. And if you speak up about it, you’re made to feel difficult.”
Scott had filmed intimate moments in projects before “Mogulettes,” and says it’s rare for any production member to discuss the details of such a scene before shooting it. That was the case on “Mogulettes,” where she says she and Pardue never had a conversation about how to approach their scripted kissing scene.
“It was just kind of, like, ‘Go!’” she says. “It was pretty awkward.”
Last week, HBO announced that the network will hire “intimacy coordinators” to monitor any sexually intimate scenes filmed on the sets of its programs. Scott says that such an individual might have prevented the alleged misconduct that happened during “Mogulettes.”
“Walking through the intimacy of a scene could be super preventative,” the actress says. “We have weapon masters. We have stunt choreographers. A designated position for this kind of work is encouraging to me.”
Sympathetic to Scott’s plight, Schumer, connected her with Rebecca Rottenberg Goldman, the chief operating officer of Time’s Up. Goldman sent Scott to Katherine Atkinson, a lawyer who had volunteered her services to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which has received more than $20 million from Time’s Up to help women who could not afford legal counsel.
On May 25, when Scott told Atkinson that she did not want to file a civil suit, the lawyer advised her to speak with Kendra Barkoff, a public relations consultant with SKDKnickerbocker who represents Time’s Up.
Scott agreed to speak with Barkoff, again recounting her on-set allegations. Barkoff said that if Scott was interested in telling her story to a reporter, she could help connect her with different media outlets. Eventually, Barkoff referred Scott to The Times.
Meanwhile, Scott continued to discuss her legal options with Atkinson, but on their third phone call, the lawyer told Scott that she would need to pay Atkinson $2,500 to retain her services.
Scott had assumed Atkinson was working pro bono, but some lawyers working through the Legal Defense Fund ask to be paid. According to Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, not all of the attorneys affiliated with the organization charge a $2,500 retainer. “Some work pro bono, some work for less, and we’ve had cases where they applied for funding to cover the retainer for the client — ‘We’ll take this case if we get funding, and if we don’t, we won’t,’” she said.
Atkinson later said Scott could file for financial aid through the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, but told her “it wasn’t 100% certain they would reimburse” her.
Unwilling to take the financial risk, Scott set aside the idea of retaining an attorney and returned to SAG-AFTRA. Schumer had connected her with actress Frances Fisher, a member of SAG-AFTRA’s National Board who told The Times she proposed Scott reach out directly to the union’s president, Gabrielle Carteris. Scott emailed her, relaying how she felt the union had let her down.
“Gabrielle got back to me that night thanking me for sharing this,” says Scott, who began to read aloud from Carteris’ email: “I am eager to hear how the Time’s Up will help on this issue. As for the union, I am making sure that this is reviewed as we continue developing best procedures and support systems.”
Through Greenwalt, Carteris declined to comment specifically on Scott’s case.
Bolstered by the quick response from Carteris, Scott decided to move forward with the member-to-member complaint, which she initiated on June 11. Two weeks later, she received a questionnaire in the mail asking her to recount her experience and share any witnesses and documentary evidence. She did that and sent the questionnaire back to the union the same day.
Speaking out about this has been extraordinarily difficult for me, and now I understand why so many people don’t.
— Sarah Scott, actress
By the end of August, she had heard nothing — not even an acknowledgement that the paperwork was received. On Aug. 26, she filed a police report with Officer Brent Zuber at the Hermosa Beach Police Department.
“Since I wasn’t interested in pursuing any kind of civil case, I felt it was one of my duties to go on record in this way,” Scott says. (The Hermosa Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.)
Hoping to receive an update from SAG-AFTRA, Scott messaged Carteris, who said she would check on the status of the complaint. The following day, Scott was informed that her case would be heard by the guild’s disciplinary committee on Oct. 26. (According to the guild, “hearings are not granted unless staff believes there is probable cause.”)
That committee would decide if Pardue should be expelled or suspended from the guild, which would mean loss of work and possibly health insurance, or sanctioned another way.
In mid-October, Barkoff, learning that Scott did not have a lawyer, secured Atkinson’s representation for her without the retainer. By that time, the SAG-AFTRA hearing was just days away, and Atkinson was unable to travel at the last-minute from her office in Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles.
Both parties jointly agreed to enter mediation, which meant the hearing was postponed. If either side is dissatisfied with the mediation process, they can still proceed with the guild hearing.
Jonathan Steinsapir, Pardue’s attorney, says his client “would welcome a SAG hearing or any other fair process to resolve this matter.”
“I am disappointed that Kip has chosen to hide behind his actions,” Scott says. “Speaking out about this has been extraordinarily difficult for me, and now I understand why so many people don’t. My goal remains the same — my wish is for Kip to take full responsibility for all of his actions.”
Despite close to six months of regular phone calls with lawyers, SAG-AFTRA officials and other industry support staff, Scott says she remained hopeful that sharing her story might create change in the entertainment business.
“In Hollywood terms, I am not a name, but I am a working actress,” she says. “This is how I make my money, and help support my family. I’ve been out in Los Angeles pounding the pavement as a proud union member for 15 years. I was sexually violated while at work, and even though I had the courage to tell anyone and everyone who’d listen, as time went on it seemed like I had very little control in truly preventing this from happening to anyone else.”
Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA
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