5:43pm PT by Ashley Cullins
Ex-Host Sues Hallmark Channel for Retaliation After Reporting Harassment
Ex-Hallmark Channel host Mark Steines on Thursday sued the network's parent Crown Media, claiming he was fired and humiliated in retaliation for taking a stand against harassment.
Steines hosted Hallmark's Home & Family for six years, until he was terminated in May. He claims he regularly alerted the network through his representatives that executive producer Woody Fraser harassed and verbally abused producers and no action was taken.
The network prides itself on a "squeaky-clean image," Steines says, and it avoids controversial subjects to such an extreme that it barred the Home & Family cast from using the word "breast" in a segment about mammograms. But, behind the scenes, the ex-host claims Fraser created a "vulgar, demeaning, and hostile work environment, especially for the women." Steines claims the exec producer would regularly make lewd comments about female guests in his earpiece while taping, bragged about his penis size and forcibly hugged female co-workers.
Last year, two female producers asserted sexual harassment claims against Fraser, and Steines says he supported them by providing "truthful information" to their lawyer — attorney Lisa Bloom, who is now representing him as well — which he claims prompted the network to retaliate.
“They substantially reduced his salary, abruptly cut his regular voice-over work, diminished his role in network events, and cut him out of the show’s opening sequence for Season 6," writes Bloom in the complaint, which is posted below. "Defendants’ retaliation ultimately culminated in Mr. Steines’ abrupt early termination, conducted in an utterly unprofessional manner intended to personally humiliate Mr. Steines while maximizing damage to his professional reputation."
The network told Steines he was being terminated because of creative differences, according to the complaint. Afterward, Hallmark issued a public statement that it had parted ways with the host, and Steines says that caused speculation that he was fired for engaging in sexual misconduct amid the #MeToo movement. He is suing for retaliation and wrongful discharge, among other claims.
Bloom on Thursday sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement on the complaint: "The law protects witnesses and employees who oppose sexual harassment in their workplace, because we know that victims can rarely win their cases alone. We need male allies like Mark to speak up. Retaliation against those who do is illegal."
Crown Media did not respond to a request for comment, but later posted a statement on its website. "The decision to replace Mark Steines was a measured, strategic and difficult decision for Crown Media to make, but was necessary given that the ratings for the show had declined," it reads in part. "Further, the results of third party research indicated that Mr. Steines was perceived negatively."
The statement also says the claims are meritless and that Crown Media is "surprised" Bloom is representing Steines because she has a consulting agreement with the company.
Sept. 21, 5:40 p.m. Updated with a statement from Crown Media.