CBS News Accused of "Sexist Double Standards" in Discrimination Dispute

CBS headquarters LOGO Building- Getty-H 2017
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As sexual harassment allegations against ousted anchor Charlie Rose ramp up, CBS News is being accused of tolerating mistreatment of women and not properly preserving evidence in a discrimination lawsuit from an ex-employee.

Former CBS Evening News associate director Erin Gee in June sued the network, claiming she was passed over for an opportunity to fill in as broadcast director because she's a woman and was retaliated against by being removed from the show for filing a discrimination complaint with the company and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In a Monday letter to U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter, CBS attorney Blair Robinson argues there are no genuine issues of material fact with respect to any of Gee's claims because she was never actually denied the opportunity to train as a substitute for director TJ Asprea.

"Asprea supported Gee, but told her that she would first need to train as the AD in the main control room," writes Robinson. "Gee disagreed and told Asprea that she had already trained as a control room AD ten years ago so there was no need for her to 're-train.'"

According to the letter, Asprea felt Gee's training a decade ago with different technology and a different staff was "stale" and asking her to retrain was a reasonable request. Asprea also claims Gee "verbally abused and humiliated her colleagues" and numerous employees complained about her behavior.

CBS also denies any retaliation, arguing that the decision to remove Gee from the broadcast was made months before she complained of discrimination as part of restructuring to reduce costs.

In a reply letter sent Thursday, Gee's attorney Kevin Mintzer says the network's justification for removing his client from CBS Evening News is false and pretextual.

"Although Gee worked for CBS for more than 20 years, CBS has a single employee complaint about her, which was never substantiated," writes Mintzer. "Indeed, the assertion that Gee ritually 'abused' colleagues itself demonstrates the sexist double standards at CBS News, where male news executives and talent scream and rant at colleagues without consequence, but a woman such as Gee is apparently not allowed to enforce performance standards for a live broadcast."

The reality, Mintzer argues, is that the network tolerates mistreatment of women. In her complaint,  Gee also claims that then-executive director Robert Klug told her she should have sex with a male colleague with whom she was having difficulties to "break the ice." Her attorney presents this as firsthand evidence that male CBS employees aren't disciplined for unwelcome sexual comments and groping. 

Mintzer also claims that while budgetary decisions about the broadcast may have begun before Gee's complaint of discrimination, Asprea didn't select her for reassignment until after. "[F]or over 2 1/2 years, CBS chose to humiliate Gee by having her sit idle for 60% of her time and to pay freelancers to perform work that Gee could have done," he writes. "A reasonable jury could find this course of conduct to be retaliatory."

Gee's lawyers on Tuesday sent a separate letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn asking for a conference to address a pending motion for sanctions against CBS. Mintzer claims the network failed to promptly instruct Asprea and Klug to preserve documents connected with Gee's discrimination complaint — despite their having been interviewed by CBS human resources director Maria Cottone as part of an internal investigation into Gee's allegations. Both Klug and Asprea have testified that they routinely delete emails if they're no longer needed and Mintzer argues those lost messages affect his client's ability to prove her claims. 

"By February 2015, CBS and its in-house counsel were aware of the likelihood of litigation in this matter, knew of its obligation to preserve ESI, and knew that Klug and Asprea were critical witnesses in this matter whose actions and motivations were at issue," writes Mintzer. "It is thus reasonable to conclude that CBS' failure to include them among the list of custodians who received preservation notices until June 2017 was not merely negligent, but a deliberate choice that CBS would be better off if the bulk of Klug and Asprea's emails disappeared."

CBS hasn't filed a response to that letter and Robinson has not yet replied to a request for comment.