Tucker Carlson producer's discrimination claims go beyond Dominion scandal

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Traffic on Sixth Avenue passes by advertisements featuring Fox News personalities, including Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, adorn the front of the News Corporation building, March 13, 2019 in New York City. On Wednesday the network's sales executives are hosting an event for advertisers to promote Fox News. Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro have come under criticism in recent weeks for controversial comments and multiple advertisers have pulled away from their shows. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Images of Fox News personalities, including Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, adorn the News Corp. building in New York City. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
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A Fox News producer's discrimination lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corp. provides a wider glimpse into the network's alleged cultural problems, dealings with prominent Republicans and finger-pointing following a $1.6-billion defamation lawsuit.

Abby Grossberg, who has worked in TV news for two decades, sued Fox, Fox News, Tucker Carlson and several producers late Monday, alleging the network is rife with sexist, misogynistic and abusive behavior.

Grossberg's lawsuit alleges discrimination based on gender, religion and disability. She alleges that "constant bullying and gaslighting" caused her "so much stress and anxiety that her stomach ulcers flared up and she was in excruciating pain."

The 79-page lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, raises questions about whether Fox News has sufficiently modernized its workplace culture since co-founder Roger Ailes was forced out in 2016 amid allegations of sexual harassment, first raised by former anchor Gretchen Carlson.

Other prominent Fox News figures have since toppled, including former prime-time star Bill O'Reilly and Eric Bolling, a former host of Fox News Specialists.

"Fox News Media engaged an independent outside counsel to immediately investigate the concerns raised by Ms. Grossberg, which were made following a critical performance review," the network said in a statement.

People close to Fox News say the network has made moves to improve the corporate culture, installing Suzanne Scott as chief executive in 2018 — the only female chief in the network's more than 25-year history. They credit her with increasing the number of women on her executive team.

Grossberg's complaint contains allegations that Fox lawyers pressured her to provide misleading testimony in Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6-billion defamation lawsuit. Fox News strenuously denies her claims.

The conservative cable news channel has been accused of knowingly promoting falsehoods by former President Trump and his surrogates about the 2020 election being stolen with the help of Dominion voting machines and software. There was a separate hearing Tuesday in Delaware to begin to weigh the merits of that lawsuit.

"Her allegations in connection with the Dominion case are baseless and we will vigorously defend Fox against all of her legal claims which have no merit," Fox News said in its statement.

Grossberg worked at Fox News for more than three years, first as a senior booking producer for Maria Bartiromo's show before switching to become a senior producer and head of bookings for Tucker Carlson's popular prime-time show in September. (In the lawsuit, she claimed she "was unknowingly demoted" from her senior producer role in late November.)

In the lawsuit, Grossberg contends that she heard male executives make sexist and belittling comments about Bartiromo, including that the financial news anchor was "crazy," “menopausal,” “hysterical” and a “diva."

One network official allegedly tried to blame Grossberg for Dominion's lawsuit against Fox News, accusing her that her “inability to manage a diva [i.e. Bartiromo]” created liability for the network, which resulted in the blockbuster defamation litigation.

In the Dominion case, Bartiromo's role promoting untrue claims of widespread voter fraud has received much scrutiny. Grossberg's lawsuit alleged that a superior — Ralph Giordano, a vice president of news coverage at Fox Business Network — then sought to "coerce" her "into spying on Ms. Bartiromo" so that Grossberg could make "a clean start" at the network.

After working less than five months on Carlson's show, Grossberg asked to go on medical leave in mid-January.

When she said she discussed the situation with a superior, Thomas Fox, a senior editorial producer, she alleges that she was told, “We’re all under stress. This is Tucker’s tone and just the pace of the show.”

In February, she requested to extend her leave on the advice of her therapist.

In a meeting to discuss her legal claims earlier this week, Grossberg and her attorney refused to accept a proposed settlement. Fox then sued the producer and placed her on “forced administrative leave,” according to the lawsuit. Fox has since withdrawn its action.

The lawsuit described how she was startled on her first day working for Carlson's show in September.

She arrived at the office to see "many large and blown-up photographs of Nancy Pelosi in a plunging bathing suit revealing her cleavage. The images were plastered onto her computer and elsewhere throughout the office,” the lawsuit said.

The following day, according to the lawsuit, a senior executive producer of Carlson’s program, Justin Wells, called Grossberg into an office with another colleague, Alexander McCaskill, in attendance.

Wells allegedly asked Grossberg an "uncomfortable sexual question about her former boss: 'Is Maria Bartiromo [sleeping with] Kevin McCarthy?' Shocked, Ms. Grossberg replied 'No,' and quickly left the room,” the lawsuit said.

Staff members of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” had “frequently engaged in group discussions, led by Mr. McCaskill, in which misogynistic views of women as objects to be judged solely based on their appearance were broadcasted,” Grossberg’s lawsuit claims.

“In these discussions, no woman, whether she was a Republican politician or a female staffer at Fox News, was safe from suddenly becoming the target of sexist, demeaning comments,” the lawsuit said.

Tucker Carlson on his show on Fox News in New York in 2018. Photo by Jennifer S. Altman/For The Times
Fox News host Tucker Carlson, pictured here in his network studio in 2018, was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a producer on his show. (Jennifer S. Altman/For The Times)

The lawsuit pointed to one alleged instance in October, when Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon was scheduled to appear as a guest on Carlson's show.

"Before [Dixon's] arrival, a crass and sexist discussion in the newsroom ensued regarding whether Ms. Dixon or her opponent, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, was ‘hotter and more [sexually desirable]’” the lawsuit said, noting that a producer "even polled the office on their views."

When Congresswoman Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) appeared on TV in January on the House floor, “Mr. McCaskill mocked her weight and appearance by stating she was ‘fat like Kelly Clarkson,’” according to the lawsuit.

"Such disgusting remarks were never made about men appearing on" Carlson's show, the lawsuit alleged.

In one instance, the lawsuit alleged, McCaskill commented the network's "mother’s room," where Fox News employees could pump breast milk, was a "waste of space." The executive allegedly said the space should instead be converted into a “room of tanning beds for the guys to tan their testicles," in reference to a segment by Carlson on ways for men to boost their testosterone levels.

Grossberg's lawsuit also contains snippets of communications allegedly between Grossberg and Carlson, discussing her efforts to secure an appearance by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) when he was struggling to line up votes to win the speakership of the House.

Grossberg wrote that she was facing reticence from McCarthy's staff, who were afraid that he would encounter pushback on air by prominent pollster Frank Luntz.

McCarthy, she wrote, according to the lawsuit, was “afraid, which is ridiculous. If he can’t face you, how is he going to fight Biden and the Dems? After 7 losses it can only help him."

According to the lawsuit, Carlson replied, “He’d be a cowardly idiot not to. Which he may be.”

Carlson then continued: “I really hope he [appears on the show]. I’ll be a little mean, because that’s who I am. But I won’t be too mean. I want to help fix this."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.