Sinclair Broadcasting Looks to Shed Responsibility for Sexual Harassment Allegations

Three comedy writers say they endured a hostile workplace, but whose workplace was it?
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Sinclair Broadcasting and David Zucker at are odds over who is responsible for sexual misconduct claims from three women. This week, Sinclair filed a lawsuit against Zucker, best known for writing and directing the 1980 comedy classic, Airplane!

Back in December, Jaclyn Mason, Richelle Meiss and Rebecca Zak came forward with their own lawsuit. The three were hired as staff writers at Circa Laughs, a digital comedy venture under Sinclair's umbrella. The women complained about Medio Pictures Partners COO Randall Sherman, who, according to a complaint filed in Los Angeles, routinely called them "sweetheart," often compared them to his emotional and unreasonable teenage daughter, suggested that women weren't valuable at work unless they were attractive, and assessed each of them in front of other employees about whether they were "fuckable."

Sinclair and Zucker are both co-defendants in that lawsuit and have followed it up by filing claims against each other and providing further detail about what happened. 

According to Zucker, Medio Pictures Partners is owned by him and Sherman and was created in 2016 for the purpose of doing business with Sinclair and creating the Circa Laughs venture.

Zucker alleges that MPP had to render its services within Sinclair's offices, not provide services to anyone else, use Sinclair's network and communicate with the company via Slack, and that MPP had no independent authority. Further, Zucker alleges Sinclair set office hours and that that "Sinclair was MPP sole master and source of income."

Basically, Zucker says Sinclair was the employer and that the women were Sinclair's de facto employees.

"[F]or those reasons, Plaintiff Jaclyn Mason contacted the Human Resources department of Sinclair with her original grievance," states the cross-complaint. "At no point prior to this was any grievance disclosed to MPP, David Zucker, or Randall Sherman. Sinclair/Circa refused to identify who complained to Sinclair. If MPP were actually an independent contracting party, and sole employer of Plaintiffs, Sinclair would have immediately informed MPP and or its officers of the grievance relating to an employee/supervisor harassment complaint. Instead, Sinclair kept this information confidential."

Zucker adds that once Sinclair notified him of the sexual misconduct grievance in July 2017, he began making inquiries and got Sherman to terminate his personal interactions with the creative team at Circa.

In September, a few months later, Zucker says Sinclair sent a letter to MPP advising that the Circa Laughs project would not be renewed at the end of 2017.

"Because MPP had indeed satisfied all the quotas and conditions set forth by Sinclair/Circa, which was expected to lead to a renewal of the Agreement, Sinclair's decision to immediately advise of non-renewal without consultation with MPP raised suspicions of retaliatory termination, and was perceived to be discriminatory behavior towards Plaintiffs herein," continues Zucker's cross-complaint that looks to hold Sinclair liable for breaching the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Zucker wants indemnification from Sinclair, but the reverse demand is being made by Sinclair, too.

Sinclair has a slightly different story in its own lawsuit, alleging negligent hiring, breach of contract and more on the part of Zucker.

The local network giant says it has no control or authority over its independent contractors and that Sherman "controlled the day-to-day operations of MPP to deliver content for Circa Laughs under the Agreement."

Sinclair says the decision to cancel Circa Laughs came in June, several months before Zucker indicated he got formal notice. That month, Sinclair employees allegedly held a conference call and discussed termination of Circa Laughs for business reasons.

Only afterward, according to Sinclair, did Mason email Sinclair's chief technology officer Delbert Parks with her allegations of sexism by Sherman.

Sinclair notes that Circa didn't have a human resources team, so an HR executive at Sinclair subsidiary Tennis Channel was asked to follow up. Following further investigation, Sinclair vp of news Scott Livingston and vp of human resources Don Thompson called Zucker to discuss Mason's complaint.

"They told Zucker that Sherman's behavior, based on the allegations, was unacceptable and, given that Sherman was not Sinclair's employee, insisted that Zucker address the situation," states Sinclair's complaint. "Sinclair further advised Zucker that it appeared the woman making the allegations was an MPP employee or contractor. Zucker responded that he was surprised, that it was a creative, humorous situation there, and that the allegations did not sound like Sherman. Thompson told Zucker that he needed to 'take this seriously.' Sinclair advised Zucker that 'If Sherman were our employee, we would suspend him immediately, remove him from the property, start an investigation, and take prompt and appropriate action.' Zucker told them he did not have a Human Resources team, but he would find someone to do the investigation and that he would remove Sherman from the environment."

Sinclair is being represented by John Barber and Corinne Spencer at Lewis Brisbois. Zucker is being handled by attorneys Al Mohajerian and Ann Anooshian.