After an ABC News staffer filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the network and former Good Morning America top producer Michael Corn, accusing him of sexual assault, Corn is calling the claims “demonstrably false,” pointing to email exchanges he says counters her version of events.
In her lawsuit, filed in New York state court, Kirstyn Crawford, anchor producer for George Stephanopoulos on GMA, claims that Corn assaulted her while they were traveling in Los Angeles in February 2015 for coverage of the Academy Awards. The lawsuit claims that as they were taking an Uber ride to their hotel, Corn pulled her head into his chest “and began kissing her and rubbing her legs. Each time Crawford tried to pull away, Corn pulled her right back.” It also alleges that he later came to her hotel room “for the express purpose of attempting to have sex with her.”
The lawsuit (read it here) also accused Corn of assaulting another staffer, Jill McClain, who is no longer with the network, on two separate occasions while they were traveling. She is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit but is supporting the case, according to Crawford’s complaint.
The lawsuit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, names Corn and ABC as defendants. It also accused Corn of fostering a toxic work environment, and alleges that the network was aware of complaints about Corn but did not take action.
“As early as 2017, ABC learned of Corn’s sexual assault on Plaintiff. Yet ABC did nothing to protect Plaintiff or remove Corn from his position of power,” according to the lawsuit. “Indeed, Plaintiff has reason to believe that ABC was also aware of other women who complained against Corn. Instead, ABC looked the other way, elevated Corn through the ranks due to his commercial success as a producer, and facilitated the hostile workplace that Corn cultivated through his influence over subordinates’ careers, sexual harassment, gaslighting, and anger management issues.”
Corn abruptly departed ABC News in April, but no reason was given at the time. He later landed at Nexstar Media Group’s NewsNation as the president of news.
Through his attorney, Elizabeth Locke, Corn released a statement denying the claims and suggesting that he may take his own legal action.
“I vehemently deny any allegations that I engaged in improper sexual contact with another woman,” Corn said. “Kirsten Crawford’s claims are demonstrably false—and I am providing contemporaneous emails to prove it. Hours after the supposed incident, Ms. Crawford offered to bring me coffee and breakfast to my hotel room and asked for my hotel room number because she didn’t know it—the very same room where she now claims this incident occurred. The same day, she repeatedly offered for me to share a car with her. And the same day she emailed me, after I helped counsel her through a work problem, ‘why are you so great?’ These are not the words and actions of a woman who had been assaulted hours before.”
“I will be pursing all available legal remedies against these women and defending myself vigorously.”
A spokesperson for Nexstar said in a statement, “We have no comment on anything that may or may not have happened prior to Mr. Corn’s employment with Nexstar.”
An ABC News spokesperson said, “We are committed to upholding a safe and supportive work environment and have a process in place that thoroughly reviews and addresses complaints that are made. ABC News disputes the claims made against it and will address this matter in court.”
In the lawsuit, Crawford claims that after taking an Uber ride and arriving back at the hotel, Corn told her that he lost his room key.
“Crawford, as Corn’s subordinate, felt compelled to solve her boss’ apparent problem,” according to the lawsuit. “Corn provided Crawford with his room and floor number, and Crawford went to the front desk to explain that her boss had lost his room key. Just as Crawford was about to explain the situation to the clerk at the front desk, Corn called to Crawford and told her that he had found his room key and that he actually had it all along. Upon reflection, Crawford believes that Corn feigned losing his room key in a devious ploy to get her to invite him to her room.”
In the complaint, Crawford claims that on the elevator up to their rooms, she did not want to give Corn her room number, but “wanted to figure out a way to extract herself from the situation as gently as possible so as not to upset her new boss.” So she instead walked Corn to his room. There, according to the lawsuit, Corn told her he was not feeling well, and she gave him an Advil. Corn asked Crawford to sit on the edge of the bed with him, and she did, but “feels ashamed that she did,” according to the lawsuit. She feared that “if she said ‘no,’ Corn would lash out at her.”
Then, the lawsuit alleges, Corn “grabbed Crawford’s arm and pulled her down onto the bed and pulled her head onto his chest.”
“Crawford was frozen in fear. While holding Crawford’s head against his chest, Corn began kissing the top of Crawford’s head, petting her hair and stroking her arm. Over and over again, Corn repeated, ‘Shhhh, let’s just lie here; shhhh, let’s just lie here, shhhh.’ Thankfully, Crawford was able to pull away from Corn’s grasp and rushed to her room,” the lawsuit claims.
Later, when she was back in her room, she heard Corn calling for her from the hallway, according to the lawsuit. She opened the door and he came in and lay down on the bed, and she pleaded with him to leave, according to her allegations. He eventually did. She told her boyfriend what happened “and said that she never wanted to talk about it ever again.”
But according to the lawsuit, in or around November 2017, Stephanopoulos learned of the alleged assault, and reported it to Tanya Menton, a lawyer in the network’s litigation department. He disclosed this to Heather Riley, then senior director of publicity for the show, and Derek Medina, then senior director of business affairs for ABC News, and was directed to the attorney. He later urged Crawford to contact Menton.
Around the time, the lawsuit states, Crawford spoke to Riley about the alleged assault. Riley told her to do what she felt was “right,” but also cautioned that “reporting the assault and harassment might get ‘messy,'” according to the lawsuit. Crawford feared retaliation and never called Menton. The lawsuit says that even though Crawford eventually filed a complaint in February, the network policy required an investigation whenever it was put on notice of alleged misconduct.
The lawsuit also accuses Corn of making numerous inappropriate comments, angry outbursts and excessive drinking. Crawford contends that she was denied a promotion and raise for several years until Stephanopoulos intervened.
Locke, Corn’s attorney, sent a letter to Crawford’s legal representatives, led by Milton Williams, on Tuesday, calling a pending lawsuit “frivolous litigation.” Locke’s letter included email exchanges between the two on that Oscar weekend.
Included were emails of an exchange the morning after the alleged incident, on Feb. 21, 2015, in which she expresses concern over Stephanopoulos’s flight from New York to Los Angeles being canceled. Locke noted that in the exchange, Corn apologized that Crawford had to deal with the flight situation, and she made it clear that he “had nothing to apologize for at that time” and offered to ride with him to the Oscars that evening.
“I’m soooo sorry! Can u go back to sleep?” said one email from Corn, sent at 8:20 AM, per Locke’s letter. “Haha why the eff are you apologizing? I’m weirdly totally awake now,” Crawford responded at 8:26 AM.
“In the same email exchange, when Mr. Corn mentioned having a headache from the previous evening’s event, Ms. Crawford joked that it was her fault he had a headache and that she should be apologizing—referencing staying out late drinking with Mr. Corn and the other ABC staffers,” Locke wrote. “Thereafter, she offered to bring him Advil to his room, asking for his room number (which, presumably, she would have known if she had been in his room the night before). When he responded that he was stuck on a call, Ms. Crawford pressed, and offered to bring coffee and food to his room.”
The lawsuit claims sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, as well as discrimination, among other claims. It seeks unspecified damages.
The lawsuit includes claims from McClain over incidents that occurred in 2010, when she was working as a staffer for World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer, reporting to Corn. In one incident, as they were taking a red eye from Los Angeles on a work trip, McClain and Corn were seated next to each other. The lawsuit claims that Corn, “out of nowhere,” began to massage her hand and arm.
According to the lawsuit, “McClain was immediately uncomfortable and stunned and asked Corn, ‘What are you doing?’ Without responding, Corn began rubbing McClain’s upper right thigh with his left hand. McClain went into a state of shock and froze.”
McClain was in the window seat and “felt trapped,” according to the lawsuit, and Corn “then slid his hand from McClain’s upper right thigh to her vagina, and began rubbing her vagina, over her jeans. Not knowing what else she could do, McClain turned her body towards the window so Corn’s hand could no longer reach and grope her vagina, and she pretended to fall asleep.”
Seven months later, according to the lawsuit, Corn and McClain were in London to cover the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. After the ABC team went to a hotel bar for drinks one evening, McClain and Corn shared an elevator ride to their floor. The lawsuit claims that Corn pushed his way into her room and pinned her against the wall, pushed her down on the bed and got on top of her.
“Corn then grabbed the top of McClain’s jumpsuit as well as her bra and pulled them both down, exposing McClain’s bare breasts,” according to the suit. “Corn began fondling McClain’s bare chest. McClain mustered all of the strength that she could and managed to push him off of her. She yelled at Corn to leave, and Corn left the room in a huff.”
According to the lawsuit, McClain told two close colleagues that Corn was “creepy” but was afraid to elaborate and feared that her career would suffer if she reported it. She left the network in 2013 and, given the trauma, did “not even disclose the assaults to her then-fiancé, now-husband until 2016,” according to the lawsuit.
In Locke’s letter, she warned Crawford’s attorneys they could face sanctions for filing a frivolous claim, and that Corn “will take any steps necessary and appropriate to address false and malicious claims made about him, whether in court filings or elsewhere.”
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