A Fox News producer suing the network for discrimination claims to have been “coerced” to give “false and misleading” testimony in her deposition to avert massive liabilities in a $1.6 billion defamation battle with Dominion Voting Systems.
The allegations surfaced in two amended complaints in producer Abby Grossberg’s lawsuits against Fox Corporation, Fox News Network, their attorneys, and their executives, filed in New York and Delaware. Fox has been battling multiple defamation lawsuits by voting machine companies accusing them of knowingly peddling misinformation after the 2020 presidential election, anxious about keeping their viewers from flocking to farther right-wing alternatives like Newsmax and One America News.
“Throwing Ms. Bartiromo directly under the proverbial bus”
With Grossberg’s lawsuits, Fox’s defamation headaches have collided with a human resources nightmare. Grossberg, who worked for hosts Maria Bartiromo and Tucker Carlson, accuses Fox of sex- and religious-based discrimination. She says that the network’s toxic work environment long outlasted the cavalcade of sexual harassment lawsuits that led to the ouster of ex-CEO Roger Ailes, and she allegedly endured antisemitic comments and jokes by Carlson’s managing editor and senior producer Alexander McCaskill.
Grossberg claims that Fox’s sexist office culture seeped into the network’s litigation strategy, setting Bartiromo and her as scapegoats.
“Ms. Grossberg’s deposition testimony, as manufactured by Fox News, put Ms. Grossberg and Ms. Bartiromo squarely on the frontline of the Dominion/Fox Lawsuit so they could be scapegoated as sacrificial female lambs,” the amended complaint states.
Citing Rupert Murdoch’s testimony, the lawsuit claims that Fox’s strategy to blame the women went right to the top.
“True to form, and as corroboration of Fox News’s plan to scapegoat Ms. Bartiromo and Ms. Grossberg, Rupert Murdoch testified at his deposition in the Dominion/Fox Lawsuit that Ms. Bartiromo, but not Fox, ‘endorsed‘ the false notion of a stolen election, throwing Ms. Bartiromo directly under the proverbial bus,” a footnote of the complaint reads.
Fox attorneys “coached” her to give “shaded” or “incomplete” answers in her sworn deposition, such as canned responses of “I do not recall,” potentially opening herself up to accusations of civil or criminal perjury, Grossberg says. The network then touted the transcript of Grossberg’s “evasive” answers in a way that damaged her reputation but benefited her bosses, according to the lawsuit.
By contrast, Grossberg claims, Fox treated “certain blameworthy male colleagues” with “kids gloves,” including senior vice president for weekend news David Clark and president Jay Wallace.
“This blame-shifting would, in turn, transfer culpability for publishing the alleged defamatory statements about Dominion away from Fox Corporation given that these men were and/or had a direct line of communication with the higher ups at the Network and had to endorse the false coverage of Dominion for the false information to make it on air for the purposes of increasing and retaining viewership,” the Delaware lawsuit alleges.
Grossberg says that she left her preparation sessions with the distinct impression that during her sworn deposition she was “not to name names or to implicate others, in particular prominent Fox News male executives,” the complaint states in a boldfaced and italicized statement.
“Disgusting language about women in the workplace”
Dominion’s attorney Davida Brook, from the firm Susman Godfrey LLP, grilled Grossberg on Sept. 14, 2022, including on Carlson’s sexist remarks about a pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theorist.
“Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson wrote in one text message, calling her a “F—ing b—-.” Adding more gender-loaded language, Carlson also referred to Powell as a “c—.”
When asked whether such language made her uncomfortable, Grossberg says she felt compelled to answer “no.”
“In truth, Ms. Grossberg knew full well, largely based on public information, that Mr. Carlson was very capable of using such disgusting language about women in the workplace,” her lawsuit says. “She also knew how terribly she had felt every time she had heard her prior male superiors and colleagues at Fox News spew misogynistic phrases at her (or within her earshot) on a constant basis.”
Grossberg claims that Fox fraudulently induced her to make statements against her interest in that deposition and portrayed her in a false light by using those allegedly coerced statements in public filings. The Fox attorneys named in the Delaware lawsuit are Stephen Potenza, Paul Salvaty, Sean Suber, and Leslie West.
Since Grossberg first filed her lawsuit, Fox has tried to keep her from divulging information about preparations for her deposition with Dominion. Fox filed motions to seal that information related to Dominion in the Southern District of New York and Delaware Superior Court. The former effort failed, but the second effort succeeded. Grossberg says she was placed on forced administrative leave shortly after the filing of the first lawsuit and was reportedly terminated on Friday.
A Fox spokesperson indicated that Grossberg’s public filing of the amended complaints could escalate matters.
“Like most organizations, FOX News Media’s attorneys engage in privileged communications with our employees as necessary to provide legal advice,” the spokesperson said. “Last week, our attorneys advised Ms. Grossberg that, while she was free to file whatever legal claims she wished, she was in possession of our privileged information and was not authorized to disclose it publicly. We were clear that if she violated our instructions, Fox would take appropriate action including termination. Ms. Grossberg ignored these communications and chose to file her complaint without taking any steps to protect those portions containing Fox’s privileged information. We will continue to vigorously defend Fox against Ms. Grossberg’s unmeritorious legal claims, which are riddled with false allegations against Fox and our employees.”
In addition to their possible Dominion liabilities, Fox News faces the risk of another multi-billion dollar judgment in favor of Smartmatic, another voting machine company falsely blamed for Trump’s 2020 election defeat. Smartmatic voting machines were only used in Los Angeles County, where President Joe Biden’s victory was never in doubt. On Friday, Fox notched a relatively minor victory in that case, securing a ruling allowing them to scrutinize Smartmatic’s litigation financing. Fox argues that learning about Smartmatic’s backers can help them under New York anti-SLAPP law, a statute punishing lawsuits designed to chill free speech.
“Information about the source, amount, and terms of any litigation funding may be relevant, or lead to evidence relevant, to plaintiffs’ motive for this litigation,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice David Cohen wrote in a 5-page ruling on Friday.
Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox will be the first of the voting machine cases to go to a trial, which is slated for April.
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