SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) - A lawsuit has been filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against WXYZ-TV and its parent company Scripps Media, accusing them of failing to stop sexual harassment.
The suit was filed on behalf of former reporter Tara Edwards. It accuses the station of covering up the sexual harassment of Edwards by morning anchor Malcom Maddox.
Edwards read the following statement during a news conference with her attorneys to announce the lawsuit:
A little less than a year and a half ago I was a reporter. I could have been on the other side, like you journalists are… among you in a case just like this. Covering this story and trying to do the best I could to always be fair in telling the news.
I had the privilege of working with and against some of the best journalists in the country.
And, I have also had a chance over the years as a reporter to use my voice to help the voiceless. Telling their truth when they did not have the power or means to do so… And those moments have been some of my proudest moments in my career.
So imagine how difficult it has been to have felt so helpless, hopeless, and voiceless in my own nightmare for so long.
From the beginning, all I ever wanted was for my name to be cleared. All I ever wanted was for Mr. Maddox to admit the vile, vicious, and nasty rumors were not true. The rumors continue to be prevalent at WXYZ to this day.
I would like to thank the brave women of the #MeToo movement who have come before me.
You have given me the courage to speak out today. I used to think no one would ever believe my story.
To Reverend Rideout. I did not contact you. I did not ask you to do what you did. But thank you for giving me a voice when I did not think I was brave enough to do it myself. I am finally in a place where I feel strong enough to stand up. For far too long, women who’ve been discriminated against ot abused have been shamed into silence. No more.
The suit contends Maddox repeatedly subjected Edwards to “unwelcome touching, requests for sexual favors, sexual conduct, sexual comments and conduct” that “had the purpose and/or effect of substantially interfering with Plaintiff’s employment and/or creating an intimidating, hostile and offensive employment environment.”
Among the allegations against Maddox, the lawsuit contends he made multiple efforts to kiss Edwards, frequently asked her to engage in sexual acts, including if he could spit in her mouth during sexual activity and if he could urinate on her during sexual activity.
Maddox is also accused of showing Edwards sexually explicit pictures and videos, including pictures of his genitalia – including after Edwards rejected his proposal, when he asked her to look at a “work email” on his cell phone.
The conduct is alleged to have gone on for years, and allegedly included Maddox spreading “false and perverse sexual rumors” about Edwards to coworkers.
Edwards made a formal complaint about Maddox’s behavior to WXYZ management in January 2015. The complaint included written materials documenting the sexual harassment.
The complaint resulted in an internal investigation that discovered further sexual harassment by Maddox to other female employees. The alleged behavior included inappropriate texts, sexually perverted comments and showing those female employees pictures of his genitalia.
Maddox also admitted to engaging in “inappropriate communications with coworkers that did not conform to company policy” during the internal investigation.
Following the investigation, Maddox was suspended for two weeks without pay.
The lawsuit then contends that, following the suspension, Maddox was promoted to morning new anchor, while Edwards was moved to the day shift.
The suit contends these measures meant “defendant failed to take sufficient preventative, corrective, or remedial actions in response to plaintiff’s complaint of sexual harassment” and that “defendant’s punishment of Mr. Maddox was ineffective, inadequate, and infringed on the right to work in a workplace free from harassment, discrimination, and retaliation owed to Ms. Edwards.”
The lawsuit also contends promoting Maddox and moving Edwards “substantiated the rumors” concerning Edwards.
It also contends that Maddox continued to spread the rumors in the wake of the investigation, which she then reported to management.
The suit contends that WXYZ failed to take action again, following which Edwards left WXYZ-TV on December 31, 2016. She also left the field of broadcast journalism.
The sexual assault allegations against Maddox became public in December 2017, when W.J. Rideout III held a news conference and detailed them.
At that point, Maddox was suspended for a second time, while an internal investigation was again conducted.
WXYZ-TV’s parent company Scripps also conducted an investigation, as did an outside investigator.
At that time, it was determined that there was no evidence of misconduct by Maddox after he was disciplined in 2015.
Scripps has released the following statement:
“Scripps is dedicated to maintaining respectful workplace environments. We take very seriously allegations of sexual harassment or any type of workplace harassment,” Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson said. “We are committed to working promptly and vigorously to pursue employee concerns of mistreatment across all of our operations and to take all actions necessary to ensure our workplaces are free from harassment.”
These are the facts of the situation:
In early 2015, when allegations about Malcom Maddox’s workplace behavior came to light, WXYZ immediately conducted an investigation.
The investigation found that Maddox had engaged in inappropriate communications with coworkers that did not conform to the policies of WXYZ or its parent company The E.W. Scripps Co. Maddox was disciplined immediately, receiving a two-week unpaid suspension, consistent with company procedures.
The female employee who voiced these concerns continued to work at WXYZ. She was not fired or forced out -- she left the company voluntarily in December 2016 for personal reasons.
When the events from the 2015 investigation were raised again in 2017, Scripps itself investigated, strongly encouraging employees to share anything they knew about the prior situation or possible problems since then. Nothing was reported that warranted additional discipline.
Scripps then brought in an outside independent investigator early this year, who also found no evidence of further misconduct by Maddox after his 2015 discipline.
The singular focus of WXYZ is to serve the community by providing quality local journalism. To avoid any further distraction from this core mission, Malcom Maddox will be off the air for the time being.