On the company website, he's described as a "True Renaissance Man."
WXYZ-TV anchor Malcom Maddox, a former Marine and self-taught videographer and bass player who moved his way up the ranks of TV news, has said: "Detroit is where I am supposed to be right now.”
It may also be where his accomplished career takes a hit.
On Tuesday, WXYZ took Maddox off the air temporarily following a bombshell lawsuit in which former TV reporter Tara Edwards claims that Maddox sexually harassed her for years but that the station failed to adequately respond, promoting him rather than punishing him. Moreover, her attorney accused station executives of covering up the ongoing harassment by Maddox because he was more important to them than the alleged victim — a female reporter.
"This entire horrible series of events was covered up,” plaintiff's attorney Geoffrey Fieger said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, where he discussed a $100-million federal civil right lawsuit filed against the station. “It should have never gotten to this … it was covered up by WXYZ. ... They chose the high-profile anchor over a woman who was his subordinate."
The lawsuit alleges — among other things — that 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 a photo of his penis, and asking if he "could urinate" on her.
Within hours after the news conference at Fieger's office, where the bulldog attorney alleged a "cover-up" took place, WXYZ and its parent company Scripps Media Inc. issued a statement.
“Scripps is dedicated to maintaining respectful workplace environments. We take very seriously allegations of sexual harassment or any type of workplace harassment,” Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson said in the statement. “We are committed to working promptly and vigorously to pursue employee concerns of mistreatment across all of our operations and to take all actions necessary to ensure our workplaces are free from harassment.”
At Tuesday's news conference, Edwards read a prepared statement explaining her experience at WXYZ, saying 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," Edwards said, her voice quivering.
"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."
Maddox, a Pittsburgh native who worked TV gigs in California, Wisconsin and Ohio before landing in Detroit, did not return e-mails or calls for comment. He is married with three children, according to the WXYZ website.
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 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.
In the statement, WXYZ sought to explain its version of events, stating: "These are the facts of the situation:"
- In early 2015, when allegations about Malcom Maddox’s workplace behavior came to light, WXYZ immediately conducted an investigation.
- The investigation found that Maddox had engaged in inappropriate communications with coworkers that did not conform to the policies of WXYZ or its parent company, The E.W. Scripps Co. Maddox was disciplined immediately, receiving a two-week unpaid suspension, consistent with company procedures.
The statement did not name Edwards, saying only this about Maddox's accuser:
"The female employee who voiced these concerns continued to work at WXYZ. She was not fired or forced out — she left the company voluntarily in December 2016 for personal reasons," the company states.
Fieger argues his client had no choice but to leave.
“Tara didn’t want to leave, she had to leave," Fieger said. "She couldn’t put up with the ... harassment.”
The company acknowledged that Maddox came under investigation twice for alleged sexual harassment; first in 2015, after Edwards filed a formal complaint with the company; then again in 2017, when the Rev. W.J. Rideout III, pastor of Our God's People Church in Detroit, publicly claimed that station management were informed of sexual harassment allegations against Maddox by an unnamed employee and failed to address the issue. Instead, Rideout said, the station promoted Maddox and moved the woman to a new assignment.
Here's what WXYZ said about the pastor's allegation:
"When the events from the 2015 investigation were raised again in 2017, Scripps itself investigated, strongly encouraging employees to share anything they knew about the prior situation or possible problems since then. Nothing was reported that warranted additional discipline," the company states.
Scripps says it also brought in an outside investigator early this year, who also "found no evidence of further misconduct by Maddox after his 2015 discipline."
Edwards claims there was plenty more bad behavior by Maddox, and that it went on for years.
According to the lawsuit, “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 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 e-mail" 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."
Fieger said male and female employees, including executives who are no longer at the station, knew what was going on and can substantiate Edwards’ claims.
In her statement Tuesday, Edwards said she didn't contact the pastor to disclose her story, 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."
Southfield attorney Michael Hanna, who is handling the case along with Feiger, explained why a $100-million award is warranted.
"We believe these facts are extreme and outrageous, and the jury will ultimately decide on the award," Hanna told the Free Press on Tuesday, charging that WXYZ failed to properly address Edwards' complaint.
"The facts alleged in the complaint demonstrate that Ms. Edwards was subjected to an outrageous, hostile work environment," Hanna said. "They failed to take appropriate action to stop the harassment. What they did wasn't enough."
WXYZ defended its position on sexual harassment, saying it takes complaints "very seriously."
"The singular focus of WXYZ is to serve the community by providing quality local journalism," WXYZ said in the statement. "To avoid any further distraction from this core mission, Malcom Maddox will be off the air for the time being."
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