On the eve of a key hearing in a defamation lawsuit against Fox News, an employee who was deposed in the case said she has sued the company, alleging that its lawyers coached her to shift blame for programming decisions around the airing of Trump allies’ false claims of election fraud.
The lawsuit from producer Abby Grossberg came late Monday, hours after Fox sought a restraining order to keep her from disclosing in-house legal discussions.
In the federal civil suit, which her lawyer says was filed in the Southern District of New York, Grossberg alleges that she was “isolated, overworked, undervalued, denied opportunities for promotion, and generally treated significantly worse than her male counterparts, even when those men were less qualified than her,” and that she was retaliated against after she complained.
Her suit also details claims that she was subjected to “vile sexist stereotypes.” It describes a male senior producer scolding her for sharing too much information with Maria Bartiromo, the popular opinion host for whom they both worked at the time. The senior producer and another male executive described the host in terms such as “menopausal,” “hysterical” and “a diva,” Grossberg alleged.
A spokesperson for Fox called Grossberg’s suit “baseless,” saying, “We will vigorously defend these claims.”
Grossberg’s account of a sexist environment at Fox News echoes stories shared by several female employees in 2016 and 2017, when powerful network co-founder Roger Ailes and prime-time star Bill O’Reilly were forced out by allegations of sexual harassment.
But it is the producer’s allegations that Fox lawyers “coerced, intimidated, and misinformed” her as they prepped her to testify in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation suit against the network that are poised to further complicate that roiling legal battle.
A little-known staffer at Fox News for the past four years, Grossberg just this month emerged as a key behind-the-scenes player at the center of the blockbuster case. Dominion argues Fox knowingly aired spurious claims that it rigged its voting machines in favor of Joe Biden in the 2020 race. Fox argues that it was simply reporting on newsworthy claims made by a sitting president.
Both sides will appear in Delaware Superior Court on Tuesday to argue for the judge to rule in their favor - probably the last major hearing before the case is expected to go to trial next month.
Grossberg was subpoenaed by Dominion last year to discuss her work on televised segments in which Bartiromo discussed far-fetched and unproven claims of election fraud. But in her deposition prep sessions, the producer claims, Fox lawyers “were displeased with her being too candid” and took extra time “to make sure she got her story straight and in line with [Fox’s] position.”
She said she was urged to give generic answers such as “I do not recall” and discouraged from offering explanations of how Bartiromo’s understaffed team was unable to keep up with warnings from Dominion about false statements they had aired.
By giving what she calls “false/misleading and evasive answers” that she said were encouraged by Fox’s legal team, Grossberg says she put herself at risk of committing perjury, while “subtly shifting all responsibility for the alleged defamation against Dominion onto her shoulders, and by implication, those of her trusted female colleague, Ms. Bartiromo, rather than the mostly male higher ups at Fox News.”
Fox lawyers, in their request for a restraining order, said Grossberg’s plan to share details from her conversations with lawyers was “a transparent attempt to gain leverage over Fox News.” They also wrote that Grossberg “proved unable to perform adequately” after a recent promotion and that she had been issued a written warning.
Late Monday, a company spokesperson said that Fox “engaged an independent outside counsel to immediately investigate the concerns raised by Ms. Grossberg, which were made following a critical performance review.”
In an interview with The Washington Post late Monday, Grossberg’s attorney, Parisis G. Filippatos, called Fox’s restraining order an “attempt to chill her,” adding that “her suit will reveal the truth, not the selected version of sanitized events that Fox is famous for.”
Fox placed her on leave Monday from her current job as a booker for Tucker Carlson’s prime-time show, he said.
[Is Sean Hannity a journalist? Role of hosts is key in Fox News lawsuit.]
Filippatos said Grossberg will also file a defamation suit against Fox with Delaware Chancery Court that claims the company induced her to make statements in her deposition that made her look “inept” and harmed her reputation.
Details of Grossberg’s suit were first reported late Monday by the New York Times.
In Grossberg’s September deposition, Dominion lawyers asked her about the circumstances surrounding a Nov. 8, 2020, appearance by Trump-affiliated attorney Sidney Powell, who told Bartiromo on air that there had been “computer glitches” during the election and “fraud ... where they were flipping votes in the computer system or adding votes that did not exist.”
Grossberg defended the decision to air claims like those that Powell was promoting, according to segments of her deposition made public this month. “We bring on people and they give their opinions,” she said. “Maria asked questions. The guests responded and gave their points of view, and it was up to the audience to decide.”
She told Dominion’s lawyers that the fraud claims were aired because her production team “thought the public deserved to hear what the current administration was saying.”
Grossberg first gained public notice in February, when Dominion filed a widely publicized brief that described one of its lawyers asking Grossberg if it’s important to correct falsehoods uttered on the show - and Grossberg replying, simply, “No.”
This, Dominion argued, was more evidence that Fox staff knew Trump election-fraud claims were false but did not convey that to viewers.
In fact, Grossberg said in her suit, she did not want to give that answer, but “she had been conditioned and felt coerced to give this response that simultaneously painted her in a negative light as a professional.”
After “writers at prominent media outlets called Ms. Grossberg’s ethics as a journalist and her professional judgment into question,” she alleges, she suffered anxiety and stress.
According to Fox’s complaint, first reported by the Daily Beast, the network’s lawyers advised Grossberg in meetings before her deposition that “they represented Fox News and not her in her individual capacity” and that their discussions with her “were subject to the attorney-client privilege” and must be kept confidential.
The complaint stated that Fox first realized Grossberg intended to share details of those conversations when the company received a draft of Grossberg’s potential legal filing against the company last month.
Grossberg, the complaint stated, told the network that she was not subject to the company’s attorney-client privilege.