Suit by Fox News producer alleges BigLaw lawyers and others pressured her to give evasive testimony
An exterior view of the News Corp. Building and Fox News headquarters in New York City on Feb. 28. Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via the Associated Press.
Updated: A Fox News producer alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday that she worked in a “misogynistic environment” at the network and received worse legal representation than male employees as she prepared for deposition testimony in the defamation case filed by Dominion Voting Systems.
The plaintiff, Abby Grossberg, “received damaging and woefully inferior and inadequate legal representation,” the March 20 federal suit in the Southern District of New York alleges. “Quite simply, Fox’s legal team coerced, intimidated and misinformed Ms. Grossberg as they ‘prepared’ her in connection with deposition testimony … , resulting in irretrievable reputational and emotional harm.”
Grossberg filed a separate suit in Delaware superior court Monday alleging that the network and its lawyers conspired to defame her and fraudulently induced her to make statements against her own interests.
“The Fox News attorneys acted as agents and at the behest of Fox News to misleadingly coach, manipulate and coerce Ms. Grossberg to deliver shaded and/or incomplete answers during her sworn deposition testimony, which answers were clearly to her reputational detriment but greatly benefited Fox News,” according to that suit.
Grossberg’s federal suit alleges that Fox News retaliated against her after she complained about harassment based on gender and her Jewish religion. She received a “bogus written warning” about her work, and when she refused to settle her bias claims, the network sued her and placed her on forced administrative leave, according to the federal suit.
The federal suit alleges that the Fox News legal team wanted to thrust exposure for its claims about rigged Dominion voting machines away from the company and on to Grossberg and Fox host Maria Bartiromo. Grossberg was a senior booking producer for Bartiromo on her Sunday Morning Futures With Maria Bartiromo show before accepting a position with Fox host Tucker Carlson.
Grossberg prepared for her deposition with lawyers from Fox News and Winston & Strawn. The Fox News lawyers included Steve Potenza, deputy general counsel, and Lesley West, senior vice president of legal and business affairs. One of the Winston & Strawn attorneys was partner Paul Salvaty.
Before the prep session began, according to the federal suit, Grossberg asked whether she needed a lawyer. According to the suit, Salvaty “responded to Ms. Grossberg with a definitive and discouraging ‘no,’” along with an explanation that it complicates the process and slows things down.
Grossberg said she was led to think that during the prep sessions, she had “to avoid problematic questions or say something equivocal” for Fox News to have her back. One way that Grossberg learned this was through the reactions of Potenza and West when she answered hypothetical questions in a truthful manner that also implicated others or needed explanation. Potenza and West would respond with scowls and emphatic “no” shakes of their heads, according to the federal suit.
She was also left with the impression that it was in her interests to respond to questions with “I do not recall” whenever possible, according to the federal suit.
Because of her preparation, Grossberg gave an answer during her deposition that has called into question her professional ethics, according to the federal suit. The question put to Grossberg was: “If someone says something untrue on one of your shows, do you think it’s important to correct it?” Grossberg’s answer was “no.”
“This was not the testimony Ms. Grossberg wanted to give, but she had been conditioned and felt coerced to give this response that simultaneously painted her in a negative light as a professional,” according to the federal suit.
Male colleagues had been provided copies of their deposition transcript to review and correct shortly afterward, but Grossberg “was inexplicably not provided the opportunity to read, much less correct and sign, the transcript of her deposition until nearly eight months after her deposition,” according to the federal suit.
Grossberg said she left to work for Carlson because she was overworked and undervalued while working for Bartiromo. Grossberg performed her job and that of executive producer, but she was never given the proper title or a pay increase, according to the federal suit.
Grossberg alleges gender discrimination, religious discrimination, retaliation, disability discrimination and unequal pay. All the causes of action are based on state laws, except for one of the equal pay claims. She plans to add federal discrimination and disability claims after receiving a right-to-sue notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Fox News said in a statement to Law360 it engaged independent outside counsel to investigate Grossberg’s claims, which were made after a critical performance review.
“We will vigorously defend these claims,” the spokesperson said.
Fox News also responded Monday with a suit seeking to prevent Grossberg from revealing attorney-client privileged communications. The lawyers “clearly informed” Grossberg that they represented Fox News and did not represent Grossberg in her individual capacity, according to that suit.
Salvaty said in a March 20 affidavit in the Fox suit Winston & Strawn did not represent Grossberg, and neither did Fox News attorneys.
“At no time during these meetings did we or Fox News’ in-house attorneys represent Ms. Grossberg,” the affidavit said. “In fact, from the outset and periodically throughout these meetings, we again explicitly explained to Ms. Grossberg that we represented Fox News and not her in her individual capacity.”
Fox News said in a March 27 statement it had fired Grossberg after she disclosed privileged information in her suit.
“Like most organizations, Fox News Media’s attorneys engage in privileged communications with our employees as necessary to provide legal advice,” the statement 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.”
Winston & Strawn and Salvaty did not immediately respond to ABA Journal emails seeking comment.
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Updated March 28 at 9:19 a.m. to add the new statement from Fox News.