According to documents obtained by ET on Thursday, two former students at Franco’s Studio 4 acting school filed a lawsuit against the actor and his business partners Vince Jolivette and Jay Davis. The women, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, claim that they were subjected to sexually exploitative auditions and film shoots with promises of getting roles in movies that never materialized or were released. "This led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class," the lawsuit states.
In a statement obtained by ET, Franco's attorney, Michael Plonsker, denies the claims, stating: "This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked. 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."
According to the lawsuit, the two women claim that the now-closed acting school was a scheme to provide Franco and his male partners with young women they could take advantage of. They also allege that the men "engaged 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."
Additionally, Franco is accused of offering master classes for sex scenes, with prospective students sending videotaped auditions, which he would review and keep. Per the docs, both women auditioned for the class, with Tither-Kaplan going on to take the class and alleging that during the filming of a sex scene, Franco removed plastic guards from women's body parts and simulated oral sex on them.
Tither-Kaplan and Gaal are seeking monetary damages and the return or destruction of any video recordings of former Studio 4 class members, per the lawsuit.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, Valli Kane & Vagnini, who are representing Tither-Kaplan and Gaal, said in a statement to ET: "Today, after an extensive investigation, our clients filed a class-action lawsuit against James Franco and his now shuttered school, Studio 4."
"The complaint alleges that, while Studio 4 was portrayed as a legitimate acting school that would provide direct opportunities to work with Franco and his production company, Rabbit Bandini, the school was a ploy designed to take advantage of unsuspecting student actors financially and sexually," the statement continues. "The school’s true goal was creating a constant pipeline of women Franco and others could exploit professionally and place in compromising sexual situations."
"Specifically, Studio 4 allowed Franco and his entourage to collect tuition for their own personal gain, and stockpile explicit footage of women. The school diminished a woman’s role on set to that of a sexual object who could only obtain professional opportunities through gratuitous nudity, explicit sex scenes and succumbing to sexual advances by the men in charge. In essence, Franco took the 'casting couch' to another level by creating a 'casting class,'" it states. "Through this lawsuit, our clients are seeking to empower other women who have experienced similar treatment and to know that they are not alone."
This isn't the first time Franco has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. In January of 2018, Tither-Kaplan and another woman tweeted details of their experiences with Franco's alleged inappropriate behavior. He was then accused of sexually exploitative behavior by five women, including Tither-Kaplan and three former students, in a report published by The Los Angeles Times.At the time, Franco said the allegations against him are "not accurate."
The Los Angeles Times report came shortly after Franco was criticized for wearing a "Time's Up" pin while accepting the Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy award for The Disaster Artist at the 2018 Golden Globes. The pin was created as a symbol for the movement, which brings awareness to gender inequality and sexual harassment issues that have long plagued Hollywood.
Two days after the Globes, but before the Los Angeles Times report was published, Franco appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, where he addressed the backlash. “In my life, I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I've done. I have to do that to maintain my well-being," Franco told Colbert. "I do it whenever I know that there's something wrong or needs to be changed. I make it a point to do it.”
"The things that I heard were on Twitter are not accurate, but I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice, because they didn't have a voice for so long," he continued. "So I don't want to shut them down in any way. I think it's a good thing and I support it."