Actor James Franco accused of sexual exploitation in lawsuit

The two plaintiffs claim that Franco's now-closed acting school set about exploiting its students

FILE - This Sept. 5, 2019 file photo shows James Franco at the premiere of HBO's "The Deuce" third and final season in New York. Two actresses have sued Franco and his former acting and film school, saying they were pushed into gratuitous and exploitative sexual situations as his students.  (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

Hollywood James Franco faces allegations of sexual exploitation and fraud in a civil lawsuit filed by two women on Thursday.

The actor has been accused of running an acting school that sexually exploited its female students, and of conducting other wrongdoings such as sexual harassment, fraud and sex discrimination.

Franco opened the school Studio 4 in 2014 with two other men, who have also been named in the lawsuit, which was filed in filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The plaintiffs – actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal – are former students of Studio 4, which closed in 2017.

According to them, students were asked to audition for a masterclass called Sex Scenes, taught by Franco, and pay an extra fee of USD750 (AED2,754) for it.

A report by NPR details Tither-Kaplan’s experience, who said that as time went on, students were asked to “push the envelope” and complete exercises that involved nudity.

The two named plaintiffs aim to represent more than 100 former female students at Studio 4, and claim that the school has also violated a California law that prohibits actors from paying for auditions.

Reuters has cited a statement from Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, which states: “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.”

In January 2018, Franco faced similar allegations of sexual misconduct from Tither-Kaplan and other women after he won the Golden Globe for The Disaster Artist and was seen wearing a pin supporting the Time’s Up movement.

At the time, the women expressed their claims on Twitter and had not yet filed a lawsuit.