“Morning Show” Redeux: Hubbard Accused of Allowing “Sacred Cow” Host to Harass Co-Host and Station Employees
Radio personality Melissa McGurren has sued her former employer, Hubbard Radio, for gender discrimination and retaliation and for defaming her by portraying her as a liar to protect her former co-host, Eric Ferguson, from sexual harassment accusations.
Melissa McGurren worked at Hubbard for more than 20 years, rising from a traffic reporter to co-host of the most popular show on Hubbard’s station, The Mix, “Eric in the Morning with Melissa and Whip.” During Melissa’s tenure as co-host, “Eric the Morning” was the top morning radio show in Chicago. As the main host of the most popular show on the station, McGurren alleges that Ferguson was treated as a “sacred cow” by the station leadership and employees.
In late 2020, McGurren filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. McGurren’s EEOC charge asserted that Hubbard had discriminated against her due to her gender and disability, that the station had retaliated against her when she complained to human resources, and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment at the hands of Ferguson. In early 2021, McGurren filed an arbitration demand asserting the claims in the EEOC charge and alleging that she was constructively terminated from the station in late 2020.
In her charge and arbitration complaint, McGurren alleged that Ferguson belittled her appearance and harassed her both on and off air. McGurren’s EEOC charge detailed much of the alleged abuse, including constant comments about her body, posting pictures of her prescriptions on social media, and ridiculing her for taking steps to protect herself during the COVID-19 pandemic. McGurren also cited a pending case against Ferguson by Cynthia DeNicolo, a former assistant producer who raised similar concerns.
McGurren’s defamation claims are based on an email that Hubbard’s Vice President of Marketing sent to station employees after she filed her EEOC, which was later leaked. The email stated that “we do not agree with Melissa’s characterization of the events” and that Hubbard had investigated the situation “thoroughly” in the past. Relying on DeNicolo’s declaration, McGurren asserts that Hubbard did not conduct any investigation of prior allegations of harassment against Ferguson. McGurren alleges that, because the station did not complete any investigation – much less a thorough one – the statement falsely portrayed her as a liar to co-workers, damaging her professional and personal reputation.
Hubbard seeks punitive damages of at least $10 million, stating that “the jury in this case must be given the opportunity to send the unmistakable message that corporate America may not tolerate sexual harassment to protect its revenue stream and may not engage in defamation against brave and credible women who take legal action against serial sexual abusers.”
Both the media and real life are providing vivid examples of why it is critical for employers and their boards to conduct immediate, independent investigations of allegations of sexual harassment. Obviously, for Hubbard and its board there are layers of problems that preceded the alleged defamatory statement. Was Ferguson’s harassing conduct allowed to continue unchecked? Did it in fact undertake an independent investigation designed to identify and correct harassing behaviors?
Stay tuned for the next episode of the “Morning Show,” radio style, which will answer these probing questions . . .