Sports

Lawsuit: Chris Berman Left "Racially Disparaging" Voicemail for Jemele Hill [Updated]

Adrienne Lawrence also claims the ESPN anchor threatened Hill in the message in a lawsuit that alleges the company is "rife with misogyny."
Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last December, the Boston Globe published a story on ESPN's treatment of its female employees headlined "At ESPN, the problems for women run deep." In it, former ESPN employee Adrienne Lawrence described a toxic workplace for women, specifically citing inappropriate behavior from John Buccigross, whom she initially considered a mentor. Buccigross allegedly sent unsolicited shirtless pictures and would call her things like "long legs" and "dollface" while trying to get her to go out to dinner with him.

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When rumors spread that the two were in a relationship, Lawrence repeatedly complained to company officials and was advised by a supervisor to drop the matter, according to the complaint.

As a result, Lawrence filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the summer of 2017, and claims the company retaliated by not renewing her contract when it expired. Now she's filed a federal lawsuit in Connecticut, according to TMZ and the New York Daily News, alleging sexual discrimination and hostile work environment, among other causes of action. According to the suit—which begins "ESPN is, and always has been, a company rife with misogyny"—executives were pretty brazen in their disregard for the women they worked with. (ESPN is not alone in facing allegations of workplace misconduct and sexism. A number of media companies, including VICE, have had to reckon with similar accusations in the past few months.)

The suit filed Sunday alleges rampant mistreatment of women at ESPN, including accusations that male executives "keep 'scorecards' naming female colleagues they are targeting for sex," openly watch porn on their computers and make vulgar comments about women, sometimes in front of them. Lawrence alleges male colleagues regularly discussed which women in the office they'd like to have sex with, and in one case, talked about what Rihanna must "taste like" in Lawrence's presence.

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Another example provided in the suit specifically named longtime anchor Chris Berman and accused him of leaving a threatening voicemail message for Jemele Hill:

"In early 2016, ESPN's 'The Undefeated' personality Jemele Hill received a threatening and racially disparaging voicemail from Berman on her ESPN phone line."

Lawrence claims Hill notified ESPN executive Marcia Keegan -- who oversaw Hill's show, "His & Hers" -- but ultimately "nothing was done."

Berman, quite possibly the highest-profile anchor at the company, remained employed and was never publicly disciplined. One year later, he did see his duties reduced significantly, as he was phased out of most of ESPN's NFL programming. Hill, meanwhile, was publicly reprimanded and suspended last fall for being truthful about the President of the United States, and she has since been phased out of her SportsCenter hosting duties.

Update: At 7 PM ET on Monday, Jemele Hill posted a statement on Twitter. In it, she acknowledged having a personal conflict with Chris Berman at one time, but wrote that "he never left any racially disparaging remarks on my voicemail." She also praised ESPN for its handling of the matter.