The woman claims the sports network used bots and fake social media accounts to incite hatred against her after she complained about sexual harassment.
A former ESPN legal analyst says she was passed over for a full-time position after completing the network’s fellowship program because she complained about sexual harassment, according to a lawsuit filed Sunday in Connecticut federal court.
Adrienne Lawrence says she was retaliated against after complaining about unwelcome advances from SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross. She also claims ESPN men have “scorecards” of female colleagues they want to sleep with, openly watch porn on their computers and make “repulsive” comments about women.
“ESPN is, and always has been, a company rife with misogyny,” writes attorney Brian Cohen in the complaint. “Talented and ambitious women come to work for the ‘Worldwide Leader in Sports’ with lofty career goals just like their male counterparts. But unlike their male counterparts, women are humiliated, degraded, and forced to navigate a misogynistic and predatory culture.”
Lawrence began working for the sports giant as part of its fellowship program in August 2015 in hopes of joining the network long-term as an on-air legal analyst, according to the complaint. She received high praise for her performance and, after meeting with then-president John Skipper, was convinced she’d be given a full-time offer — and she believes her complaints to HR about Buccigross are the only reason that didn’t happen.
She claims Buccigross approached her offering to mentor her, but peppered their interactions with unwelcome sexual advances.
“The seasoned anchor took advantage of the fact that Ms. Lawrence, who was new to New England and to sports broadcast, was in a position where she could not be impolite without suffering professional consequences,” writes Cohen. “While Ms. Lawrence tactfully rejected Buccigross’s advances, he ‘marked his territory,’ a common practice by men at ESPN, by spreading a bogus rumor that they were intimate, falsely suggesting that she was ‘sleeping her way to the top’ and that her advancement was based on a sexual relationship with a senior anchor rather than her stellar performance.”
Lawrence claims the network took Buccigross’ word that he only saw her as a “mentee” and failed to investigate her claims. Afterward, she says she was denied opportunities like covering the Derrick Rose civil rape trial and her shifts on SportsCenter were reduced and, at the end of her two-year fellowship, her contract wasn’t renewed.
ESPN spokeswoman Katina Arnold addressed Lawrence’s claims in a Dec. 10, 2017 post on the company’s press site in response to a feature in The Boston Globe in which Lawrence is quoted. The post also included a link to screen shots of text messages between Lawrence and Buccigross, which it characterized as proof the two had a consensual friendship.
Lawrence claims the texts were forged and the company used bots and fake social media accounts to attack her and support Buccigross. She’s suing for sexual harassment, retaliation, negligent supervision and false light invasion of privacy.
On Monday, the network issued a nearly-identical amended statement to address the lawsuit: “We conducted a thorough investigation of the claims Adrienne Lawrence surfaced to ESPN and they are entirely without merit. Ms. Lawrence was hired into a two-year talent development program and was told that her contract would not be renewed at the conclusion of the training program. At that same time, ESPN also told 100 other talent with substantially more experience, that their contracts would not be renewed. The company will vigorously defend its position and we are confident we will prevail in court.”
Lawrence’s suit also claimed that sportscaster Chris Berman left a threatening and racially charged voicemail for correspondent Jemele Hill, which the sports journalist quickly turned to Twitter to refute.
“A few years ago, I had a personal conflict with Chris Berman, but the way this conflict has been characterized is dangerously inaccurate,” writes Hill in a Monday tweet. “Chris never left any racially disparaging remarks on my voicemail and our conflict was handled swiftly and with the utmost professionalism. I felt as if my concerns were taken seriously by ESPN and addressed in a way that made me feel like a valued employee. Frankly, I’m more disappointed that someone I considered to be a friend at one point would misrepresent and relay a private conversation without my knowledge — in which I simply attempted to be a sounding board — for personal gain.”
The full complaint is posted below.