‘Price is Right’ Model Lawsuit: Latest in a History of Harassment Claims

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Former 'Price is Right' model Lanisha Cole, at center

Former Price is Right model Lanisha Cole filed a lawsuit Sept. 7, alleging wrongful termination and sexual harassment by the show’s producers. She is the latest in a long line of women to lodge similar complaints in the classic game show’s history.

In a 20-page civil complaint, Cole names producers Michael G. Richards and Adam Sandler (no relation to the comedians with the same names) and their production company in what Cole’s lawyer Solomon Gresen says is a case of exploitation of “power and control over women by bullying and harassing.”

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Cole, who worked as a model on The Price is Right from 2003 until 2010, claims that in 2009 Richards suddenly began showing favoritism to another model whom he was dating and chastised her based on rules that had not previously existed. Cole also claims that Sandler once burst into the women’s dressing room where she was half dressed and yelled at her in front of other models for not wearing a microphone.

While the show has yet to comment, a past full of complaints — including sexual harassment, racial discrimination, wrongful termination and emotional abuse and intimidation — against Price is Right producers and its longtime former host Bob Barker, depicts an institutionalized attitude that allowed executives to treat models on the show (and female staffers) as second-class citizens.

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Barker, who retired from the show in 2007 after 35 years as its host, has had several lawsuits filed against him. The first and most high-profile case came from model Dian Parkinson, who sued the host and the show in 1994 for $8 million, claiming that she had been forced to have sex with Barker in order to keep her job before she was wrongfully fired. At first Barker simply denied the charge but then amended his statement, admitting to having a consensual sexual relationship with Parkinson for a year and a half. (Barker’s wife died in 1981.) A judge eventually dismissed the wrongful termination part of the suit, and though he let the sexual harassment charge stand, Parkinson later dropped the lawsuit citing medical distress and insufficient funds to pay for legal fees.

Barker spoke openly to the press about the case, calling Parkinson’s claims, as well as a suit that was settled out of court with former Price model Holly Hallstrom, “frivolous.” Hallstrom had sued Barker and the show in 1995, saying that she was fired from the show for gaining weight and for not agreeing to give interviews to the press telling false stories that Barker had fed her about Parkinson. Though Barker counter sued for slander, a court declared Hallstrom the prevailing party, so she won a settlement.

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Although Barker had claimed that he wanted to retire in 2007 “before he got old,” rumors had begun to surface that he was being pushed out because of a threatened lawsuit of racial discrimination. A mere four months after Barker’s final show, Deborah Curling, who had been a contestant screener on Price for 24 years, filed a suit against Barker and the producers. Curling claimed racial discrimination (she is black), sexual and mental harassment and abuse. Curling had also previously testified against Barker in a case brought by a female production assistant named Linda Riegart.

But Barker’s departure didn’t change the show’s work environment. In March 2010, model Brandi Cochran sued the show, claiming that she miscarried her child due to harsh treatment by producers who discouraged models from getting pregnant. No claims have been made against the show’s current host, Drew Carey, but the history of intimidation, abuse of power, sexual harassment and discrimination seems to have passed on to Price is Right producers from the man who made the game show what it is — and who seemed to do as he pleased with the women that producers long ago dubbed “Barker’s Beauties.”

Frances Romero is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @frances_romero or on Tumblr. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page, on Twitter at @TIME and on TIME’s Tumblr.

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