5:05pm PT by Chris Gardner
E! Producer Says She Was Fired for Failing to Censor Remarks About Catt Sadler
Ryan Seacrest faced Eva Longoria on the Golden Globes red carpet Jan. 7, his arm outstretched and holding a microphone. Oscar-winners Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon stood on either side of Longoria as she proceeded to hit several Time's Up talking points.
"We support gender equity and equal pay," Longoria said. She then gestured toward Seacrest as he was representing E! on the network's Live From the Red Carpet broadcast. "And we hope that E! follows the lead with Catt as well. We stand with you, Catt."
Longoria did what Debra Messing had already done that day and something that stars like Natalie Portman, Laura Dern and Sarah Jessica Parker would do as well — speak out in support of Catt Sadler, a veteran E! host who departed the network Dec. 19 citing a "massive disparity in pay" with a male colleague, later identified as fellow E! vet Jason Kennedy.
Longoria's comments were not supposed to hit the air, according to a new complaint filed Thursday to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by E! freelance producer Aileen Gram-Moreno and her attorney, Katherine R. Atkinson of the firm Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson. Further, Gram-Moreno claims that she had her employment terminated by E! because of her failure to censor Longoria's comments and keep them from hitting the broadcast, a move she objected to, she states. She was instructed to flag any mentions of Sadler and the Time's Up and #MeToo movements that afternoon as part of her duties, which regularly included sending bulleted notes of interview highlights to producers. For missing Longoria's comments, she was told her error was "problematic."
The Hollywood Reporter confirmed the network's stance Friday afternoon through a rep, who said, "For the past decade, Aileen Gram Moreno was a freelancer who worked an average of 20 days per year solely for our red carpet coverage. After the Golden Globes, she was asked not to return due to job performance issues. Following an attempt to force E! to pay for her silence, Ms. Moreno is now spreading misleading and inaccurate information."
A source close to the story alleges that Gram-Moreno asked the network to settle for a seven-figure sum, which E! refused to pay. Gram-Moreno's attorney said that her client intends to sue dependent upon the results of the EEOC filing.
In an interview with The New York Times, which first reported Gram-Moreno's claim, network president Adam Stotsky denies the more incendiary claim that any actions were taken to censor celebrities on the red carpet. "If we were trying to censor, which is her primary thesis here, we certainly wouldn't have done that," said Stotsky, who added that they did want to be aware of any mentions of Sadler. "We don't agree with Debra Messing's assertion. We're not in the business of being a megaphone for an inaccurate story."
Adding intrigue to the situation, all the interviews done on the Globes red carpet are posted on the E! website, including all that mention Sadler.
Friday's report comes at a time when E!'s red carpet coverage continues to be the subject of much controversy. Following continued coverage of Sadler's exit, Seacrest has been accused of sexual harassment by a wardrobe stylist who came forward with her claims on the record in an interview with Variety just days ahead of the Oscars, where Seacrest has been a red carpet fixture for years. He has maintained his innocence — even penning an essay in THR — and said he will show up at the event after being cleared from any wrongdoing: "An independent third-party investigator found insufficient evidence to support the claims."
Adding another layer to what is a complicated story, when Messing made her statements about Sadler on the Globes red carpet, she did so while speaking with Rancic, who worked alongside Kennedy for many years. Following Sadler's exit, Kennedy's wife, Lauren Scruggs Kennedy posted a detailed blog post on her personal website in which she denied Sadler's salary claims by pointing out that her husband made far less than his female counterparts. "At one time my husband had a female co-host on E! News who made three times his salary and another female co-host was paid more than him as well, and they had the same role, one where Jason had more responsibility," she wrote. Though she does not name names, THR has confirmed that she was referring to Rancic and Maria Menounos.
News of Sadler's exit traveled far and wide in late December only to land front and center weeks later on a live TV broadcast on the same network where she was employed. The situation delivered awkward moments for hosts Seacrest and Rancic, who had already pivoted from typical "Who are you wearing" questions to asking the evening's black-clad boldfaced names, "Why are you wearing?"
With both Seacrest and Rancic handling interviews at different posts on the Globes red carpet, E! staff members were juggling multiple edits, Gram-Moreno alleges. Live interviews, however, could not be censored, which is why stars like Messing made such an impact. "Time is up, and we want diversity, and we want intersectional gender parity. We want equal pay, and I was so shocked to hear that E! doesn't believe in paying their female co-hosts the same as male co-hosts. I mean, I miss Catt Sadler, and so we stand with her, and that's something that can change tomorrow. We want people to start having the conversations that women are just as valuable as men," Messing said.
As for Gram-Moreno, in her written declaration obtained by THR, she is charging E! and NBC Universal with discrimination, and she continues in her claim that she was replaced by a man "who was given the title of executive producer, and presumably paid more than I was paid, to perform the same duties I performed." She also alleges that "no one discussed the issue with me before making the decision to terminate me. I explained that I was set up for failure when I was tasked to review so many interviews during a live broadcast, including monitoring two hosts doing simultaneous interviews," she states, referring to Seacrest and partner Rancic.
Gram-Moreno's filing also includes a detailed history of her work with E!, though she has been employed as a freelancer for many years. For 12 years, she states, she produced "almost 100 red carpet shows" as a part-time producer. Five years ago she received a "performance-based increase in salary."
After she was fired, Gram-Moreno claims that she requested that the network pay her for "remaining work that I had been promised," including gigs at the SAG Awards, Grammy Awards and the Academy Awards. Executive producer Gerry Johnston told her that she would not be paid, according to the claim, and that she would be contacted by a human resources representative. She has not, she says.
Additionally, Gram-Moreno says that she was replaced at the SAG Awards by three E! staffers who were meant to do her job and catch any mentions of Sadler or the pay disparity. A source close to the network disputes this as well.
THR has reached out to the EEOC for comment on Gram-Moreno's claim, which could take days or weeks to sort out.
Up first, however, is Sunday's Academy Awards, where all eyes will most certainly be on Seacrest to see how he responds to any number of hot-button issues, including his own situation, Sadler's situation or the Time's Up, #MeToo movement.
He proved to be quick on his feet at the Golden Globes. During his interview with Longoria, Kidman and Witherspoon, he said that there's no "bigger fan" of Sadler. "I love her. I think she's tremendously talented and will have a bright career I hope," said Seacrest.
Sadler will host Vanity Fair's red carpet live stream outside the magazine's iconic Oscar party alongside digital director Mike Hogan.