Attorney Geoffrey Fieger accused WXYZ- TV executives of covering up long-term sexual harassment by channel 7 morning news anchor Malcom Maddox because he was more important to them than the alleged victim — a female reporter.
"This entire horrible series of events was covered up,” Fieger said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon called to discuss a $100-million federal civil right lawsuit filed against the station. “It should have never gotten to this … it was covered up by WXYZ."
The lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of former WXYZ-TV reporter Tara Edwards claims Maddox sexually harassed her for years and the station failed to adequately respond, promoting him instead of punishing him. The lawsuit alleges Edwards was subjected to raunchy behavior from Maddox that included frequently asking her to engage in "deviant and perverse" sex acts, tricking her into looking at sex videos and asking if he "could urinate" on her.
WXYZ and Maddox did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails from the Free Press seeking comment.
Fieger said executives who are no longer at the station knew what was going on and can substantiate Edwards’ claims.
“They wanted their anchor, who is an African American, to stay in place rather than Tara," Fieger alleged. "…They chose the high profile anchor over the subordinate.”
Fieger said Edwards left her job in December of 2016 because staying was impossible.
“Tara didn’t want to leave, she had to leave," Fieger said. " She couldn’t put up with the ... harassment.”
In a quivering voice, Edwards also addressed the media at the press conference at Fieger's Southfield offices, reading a prepared statement explaining her experience at WXYZ. She said she used her voice as a reporter to "help the voiceless."
"So imagine how difficult is has been to have felt so helpless, hopeless and voiceless in my own nightmare for so long,"
"From the beginning, all I ever wanted was for my name to be cleared," Edwards said. "All I ever wanted was for Mr. Maddox to admit the vile, vicious and nasty rumors were not true. The rumors continue to be prevalent at WXYZ to this day."
Among the allegations in the lawsuit is that a spurned Maddox falsely told colleagues at the TV station that he and Edwards were having an affair and that and that Edwards had sex with him while on a work assignment in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Edwards worked at WXYZ for almost five years, from 2011 until December 31, 2016
According to the lawsuit, WXYZ investigated Maddox in 2015 for sexual harassment, concluded that he did engage in unacceptable behavior involving multiple women at the station, but let him continue working at the station anyway and even promoted him to morning news anchor. Maddox continues to work there.
Maddox was put on administrative leave by the station in early December after the allegations of sexual harassment, apparently relating to Edwards, were made public, but was reinstated three weeks later by the station’s parent company, E.W. Scripps Company.
The company said Maddox in 2015 had "received corrective action, including a two-week unpaid suspension, consistent with company procedures." The station said "it found no basis for additional action against Maddox" in its latest investigation.
"Scripps takes these kinds of allegations very seriously and believes everyone should be able to work in an environment where they are treated with respect and dignity. Because of these findings, Malcom Maddox is returning to anchor the morning news today," the station said in a statement posted on its website.
The allegations were made public in December by the Rev. W.J. Rideout III, pastor of Our God's People Church in Detroit, who claimed that station management — including Vice President and General Manager Mike Murri — were informed of sexual harassment allegations by an unnamed current employee and failed to address the issue. Instead, Rideout said, the station promoted Maddox and moved the woman to a new assignment.
In her statement Tuesday, Edwards said she didn't contract Rideout, but thanked him for making the allegations public.
"I did not ask you to do what you did," Edwards said of Rideout. "But thank you for giving me a voice when I did not think I was brave enough to do it myself. I am finally in a place where I feel strong enough to stand up."
She also praised "the brave women of the MeToo movement who have come before me," saying they gave her "the courage to speak out today. I used to think no one would ever believe my story."
According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, “Maddox’s harassing behavior was pervasive and occurred on a regular basis, "with him allegedly telling her that he would “rock (her) f------- world” and asked her if she was “ready for the physical challenge.”
The lawsuit alleged multiple examples of alleged inappropriate conduct including:
- Maddox tried many times to kiss Edwards on the face and mouth at work.
- Maddox sent written notes to Edwards, calling her “little girl” and told her that she has not “met anyone like (him) and that extends further than you can possibly imagine.”
- Maddox frequently asked her to engage in unwanted and unsolicited sexual acts that “she found to be deviant and perverse.”
- His alleged sexual propositions included asking her if he could spit in (her) mouth and urinate on her during sexual activity.
- Maddox allegedly forced Edwards to view sexually explicit pictures and videos, and showed Edwards a nude photo of another female colleague at WXYZ while they were anchoring the weekend morning news.
According to the lawsuit, Maddox "repeatedly proposed" sending Edwards pictures of his penis so that she could "judge it on a scale of 1 to 10" and once allegedly tricked her into looking at a photo of his penis by asking her to look at a "work email" on his cell phone.
Edwards told Maddox his actions "repulsed" her, the suit states.
Edwards, the suit claims, responded with a text: " ... I was hoping you would have liked what you saw if you got a good look. I wasn't expecting you to be repulsed."
The Channel 7 online biography for Maddox says he "considers himself to be a true Renaissance Man. This former Marine is a self-taught bassist, videographer and multimedia producer."
According to the biography, Maddox and his wife have three children.
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