Friday, October 15, 2021

Chicago Radio: McGurren Files Suit For $10M From WTMX

Melissa McGurren
Chicago radio host Melissa McGurren on Thursday accused her former employer, Hubbard Radio Chicago, of defamation in a new lawsuit that includes fresh allegations that WTMX 101.9 FM management perpetuated a culture of discrimination to protect cash cows such as popular morning host Eric Ferguson “at any cost.”

The Chicago Tribune reports McGurren’s defamation suit against the company that owns The Mix seeks $10 million in damages and includes a declaration as an exhibit from another former employee, Jennifer Ashrafi, who said she quit her job co-hosting a well-known WTMX afternoon show in January 2020 because she was so “disgusted” by the “misogyny, gender discrimination and hostile work environment that was pervasive” at the station.

News broke last week that McGurren, who co-hosted “Eric in the Morning” on The Mix, described Ferguson in a December complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a “serial abuser of women” who had subjected her to an “unbearable hostile work environment.” McGurren alleged management did nothing about her concerns, then forced her out in December.

In Thursday’s defamation lawsuit, she said Hubbard did not perform an investigation or conducted “a sham investigation” into her allegations, and the company attacked her credibility and integrity with comments it made last week to staff.

Jeff England, Hubbard Chicago vice president and market manager, said in a message to employees Oct. 5 the company “thoroughly investigated this matter previously. Suffice it to say that we do not agree with Melissa’s characterization of events.”

“Hubbard Radio’s statement” that the company “thoroughly investigated” McGurren’s allegations “is false,” according to McGurren’s suit. “A thorough investigation would have uncovered that Jennifer Ashrafi brought many of these same issues, that corroborate Melissa’s ‘characterization of events,’ to England in January 2020, months before Melissa filed her charge” with the EEOC. A Hubbard spokesman did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Jennifer Ashrafi
Ashrafi, who went by Jennifer Roberts on air, said in a court filing included in McGurren’s suit that The Mix has a pattern of typecasting female co-hosts as “good girl sidekicks” for higher-paid male co-hosts like Ferguson. She described her former workplace as “a hostile, humiliating atmosphere” for female employees. She did not make specific allegations against Ferguson involving his treatment of her, instead alleging he was “rude and dismissive to women.”

“His abusive behavior is open and known by all at The Mix,” she said in a written declaration, signed Wednesday. “It is humiliating to watch and dehumanizing to know that nothing can be done because the management at The Mix approved Ferguson’s misconduct by their silence in not reprimanding him.”

Ferguson, DeNicolo
Ashrafi marks the fourth female former Mix employee to come forward to allege Ferguson engaged in inappropriate conduct and management of 101.9-FM protected him due to the popularity of his show. Another former WTMX employee, Cynthia DeNicolo, recently filed an earlier defamation suit against Hubbard Chicago. DeNicolo has also separately sued Ferguson, alleging he coerced DeNicolo into sexual acts in 2004.

Ferguson, 54, who has hosted The Mix’s morning program for 25 years, was taken off the air after the Chicago Tribune broke news of DeNicolo’s allegations late last month. He is expected to be off the air through October, according to last week’s email Hubbard sent its employees that is referenced in McGurren’s lawsuit.

DeNicolo, a former assistant producer of “Eric in the Morning,” sued Ferguson in May alleging he demanded she perform oral sex for an eight-month period in 2004 using the code words “I need a backrub.” DeNicolo, 43, said in her suit Ferguson tormented her for years afterward and blocked raises and promotions until she was laid off in May 2020.

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