Fred Savage denies claims after 'The Grinder' costumer details alleged verbal, physical abuse

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

A female crew member who worked on the former Fox comedy The Grinder has filed a lawsuit accusing star Fred Savage of verbally harassing and physically striking her on set.

Youngjoo Hwang, who was a costumer on the series, appeared in a news conference with her attorney, Anahita Sedaghatfar, where she detailed the allegations in a lawsuit against Savage and 20th Century Fox filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday. Sedaghatfar said the lawsuit charged assault, battery, gender discrimination, and gender harassment, among other things.

Attorney Anahita Sedaghatfar, right, and client Youngjoo Hwang announce a lawsuit against actor Fred Savage and the Fox TV network on Wednesday in L.A. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

“From the outset of the show, Mr. Savage was aggressive toward me,” Hwang said. “He would routinely curse at me, yell at me, demean me, when all I was trying to do was my job. It became more and more stressful for me to go to work, because I was scared of the abuse and what I would have to encounter on any given day.”

Hwang alleged that other women on the set were victimized as well.

“I’m not the only woman on set that Mr. Savage targeted,” Hwang said. “There were others, and this was well known on set. During a taping of an episode, I was attempting to brush dandruff off Mr. Savage’s jacket. Mr. Savage snapped. He yelled at me, told me not to touch him, and he hit my arm violently three times. I could not stop crying. I was in pain, I was humiliated, and I was scared. This was the last straw for me, because now my physical safety was at risk.”

“I immediately reported this incident to my superiors, and rather than taking action against Mr. Savage, they encouraged me to not report Mr. Savage’s conduct, because a lot of people would lose their job and I would never work in this industry again. My complaints were ignored. The violence perpetrated against me was ignored, and I was made to feel as if I had done something wrong, that I was to blame, and that I should just keep my mouth shut.”

Hwang, who teared up as she spoke, said she was moved to another show. She charged that Savage was allowed to keep working without reprimand.

“It took everything I had in me to be here today and to speak out,” she said. “I was inspired by the #MeToo movement and the women before me, and I’m here hopefully to encourage other women to come forward and speak their truth.”

In a statement, Savage refuted Hwang’s story.

“I have witnessed tremendous courage over these past few months, watching brave women who have come forward publicly fighting through the shame and stigma of harassment,” he said. “I’ve seen firsthand the growing support in this movement that has always felt so lacking. As someone who has always tried to live honorably and with integrity, it never dawned on me that my name could be on the other side.”

From left, Steve Little, Fred Savage, and Rob Lowe star in the final episode of The Grinder. (Photo: Fox via Getty Images)

Savage continued: “I was made aware that a woman working in the costume department of a show I was on almost three years ago has claimed that I treated her harshly on set simply because she was a woman. These accusations are completely without merit and absolutely untrue. Fox conducted an extensive internal investigation into her claims, a process in which I fully participated. After concluding a thorough investigation, Fox determined that there was absolutely no evidence to support these accusations. None of her claims could be substantiated because they did not happen.

“I have been working in the entertainment industry my whole life and have always endeavored to treat everyone on any set I work on respectfully and professionally. While none of the accusations being leveled at me are true, I wholeheartedly support all people who feel they are being mistreated come forward and speak to human resources and those in charge. We have witnessed so much bravery from those speaking out recently, but I will just as boldly protect myself and my family from those seeking to tarnish my good name. I cannot let these people, in particular, denigrate me while harming the message of thousands of women and others who have suffered and continue to suffer.”

In a statement given to Deadline, 20th Century Fox TV also denied allegations of wrongdoing.

“Fox takes all allegations of improper conduct very seriously,” the company said. “We conducted a thorough investigation into these allegations and found no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Savage. We will vigorously defend against these unfounded claims.”

Fred Savage at a charity event in April 2017 in Beverly Hills. (Photo: Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

On The Grinder, Savage, 41, starred as a lawyer teaming up with his older brother (Rob Lowe), an actor who played a lawyer nicknamed “the Grinder” on TV, for real-life court cases. The comedy ran for 22 episodes during the 2015-16 TV season and was not renewed for a second.

Lowe teased in July that the show might return in some form.

“I hear a rumor that there might be life to The Grinder in some sort of special or movie or something like that,” Lowe said during a Build Series interview. “I don’t think you’ve seen the last of The Grinder. Too many people liked it. It was such a good show. And I feel like Arrested Development and Family Guy, all shows that were canceled before their time ― ahem, by Fox ― I think there’s probably more to be done.”

Interestingly, Alley Mills, who starred as Savage’s mother on six seasons of The Wonder Years, from 1988 to 1993, revealed to Yahoo Entertainment in January that the ’90s hit show had ended as a result of accusations against Savage.

“When we shot the series finale … nobody knew whether or not The Wonder Years was going to be renewed,” Mills said. “And that’s because of a completely ridiculous sexual harassment suit that was going on against Fred Savage — who is, like, the least offensive, most wonderful, sweet human being that ever walked the face of the earth.”

In 1993, Monique Long, a 31-year-old costume designer for the show, had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Savage, who was then 16, and onscreen older brother Jason Hervey, then 20. Long accused the actors of verbally and physically harassing her to the point that she couldn’t do her job properly and was fired. Reps for the show and the actors denied the allegations at the time they were made. Eventually an out-of-court settlement was reached, and the lawsuit was dropped, which Mills said was the network buying off Long.

“So I just thought [the lawsuit] was a big joke and it was going to blow over,” Mills recalled. “It’s a little bit like what’s happening now — some innocent people can get caught up in this stuff; it’s very tricky. It was so not true. It was my dresser, and I don’t care if she’s listening — I probably shouldn’t be telling this, but I don’t care because it was so long ago and it’s got to be over now.”

When contacted by Yahoo Entertainment, Long stood by her claims.

“What I will say at this time is, that back then, claiming sexual harassment was NOT popular nor acceptable in Hollywood,” she said in a January email. “Now all these years later, the truth about the dark side of Hollywood and the rampant prevalence of sexual harassment in the industry is out. It’s an issue of power and control and continues to be! People can say what they want, but the truth has always been public record in the complaint and all the documents and depositions filed with the courts. If anyone wants the truth of what happened, they can read it there. To this day I stand by the truth in those documents.”

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