The dismissal of Melissa McGurren’s $10 million libel lawsuit against Hubbard Radio Chicago doesn’t mean the end of legal troubles for Eric Ferguson or WTMX’s parent company 101.9-FM.
McGurren, you’ll recall, was co-host of Ferguson’s morning show when she left in 2020 after 22 years at the Mix.
In a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequent court filings, McGurren said Ferguson subjected her to an “unbearably hostile work environment” with the knowledge of their bosses. She also described a pattern of abuse against women at the station by Ferguson.
In response, Jeff England, vice president and market manager of Hubbard Radio Chicago, sent an email to staff – published here – which said in part: “This is not a new development, and we have already investigated thoroughly on this issue. Suffice it to say that we do not agree with Melissa’s characterization of events, but we are committed to following the proper process and not arguing this case in public or in court. hurry.
The October 5 email from England prompted McGurren to file a defamation suit, alleging that her statement had falsely labeled her a liar by attacking her credibility and integrity.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald A. Guzmán denied McGurren’s request and granted Hubbard’s motion to dismiss his lawsuit.
In the four-page decision dated March 1, Guzman wrote: “Taken in context, a reasonable reader would not understand that the internal England email was sent with the intention of damaging the reputation of plaintiff or harm her standing in the community, but rather to acknowledge the existence of the EEOC claim, let radio station employees know that the matter is being investigated, and indicate that the radio station does not agree with the applicant’s interpretation.
“Furthermore, the email does not address any particular factual allegation, and the Court disagrees with Plaintiff’s position that by referring generally to Plaintiff’s EEOC charge in his e- mail, England specifically incorporated the plaintiff’s numerous factual allegations and characterized the plaintiff as a “liar” as to each.
While McGurren, who now hosts matinees on Audacy country WUSN 99.5-FM, continues to pursue her claims against the company in arbitration, Cynthia DeNicolo’s case continues.
DeNicolo, who served as the morning show’s associate producer for 20 years before being fired in 2020, accused Ferguson in a lawsuit of forcing her to perform unwanted sex acts in 2004. She also claimed that Ferguson arranged for his dismissal.
Like McGurren, DeNicolo sued Hubbard for defamation after the company said it “found no evidence to support the allegations of unlawful conduct in the workplace.” Hubbard’s attorneys are also seeking to have that lawsuit dismissed.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision on the defamation claim and are considering a way forward,” Carmen D. Caruso, the attorney representing McGurren and DeNicolo, told me on Saturday. “And we are satisfied of our client’s underlying claims against Hubbard and look forward to our arbitration hearing.”
The weekend also brought polite responses declining to comment from Ferguson and England.
Ferguson, a Radio Hall of Famer and once Chicago’s highest-paid radio personality, stepped down in October after 25 years at the Mix.
“I’m motivated to move forward and defend against the claims made against me and the station, and I look forward to seeing them through to their conclusion,” Ferguson said at the time. “I am confident that ultimately the courts will rule and the good outcome will prevail.”
Chris Petlak, who co-hosted afternoons on The Mix, was named in January to succeed Ferguson as morning host alongside regular contributors Nikki Chuminatto, Brian Paruch and Violeta Podrumedic and executive producer John Swanson.
In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, matinees on The Mix tied for fifth overall with a 4.5% share and a cumulative weekly audience of 339,200.
The Chicago Tribune’s Christy Gutowski and Tracy Swartz first reported on DeNicolo’s lawsuit against Ferguson in September and continued to drive the story forward.
Today’s comment from Friday: Linda Shafran: Deloris MeBain was a twinkling light at the NBC Tower. A wonderful woman. May she rest in power.