CBS is being sued by a former reporter who claims that he suffered sexual harassment by two of his managers while working for the company and was retaliated against when he complained about being harassed and discriminated against.
In a complaint filed in U.S. district court in New York, Kenneth Lombardi says that he began working for CBS in 2007 as a freelance video producer, and eventually reached a point where he was being assigned celebrity interviews and red carpet assignments.
However, Lombardi’s complaint claims, he “was subjected to numerous acts of sexual orientation discrimination, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment” by the defendants, which include CBS Broadcasting and CBS Radio.
In one instance, Lombardi claims he was approached by senior producer Duane Tollison at a company holiday party. Lombardi’s lawsuit says that a “highly intoxicated” Tollison “slid his hand down Plaintiff Lombardi’s pants and grabbed Plaintiff’s penis and testicles.”
Tollison later emailed an apology, Lombardi claims, writing, “I like to get a little crazy.”
On another occasion, the complaint says, “CBS Evening News” director Albert “Chip” Colley met with Lombardi at a bar ostensibly to discuss a reel that Lombardi put together, but instead Colley quizzed Lombardi about his sexuality. When Lombardi reluctantly revealed that he was bisexual, the suit claims that Colley insisted that Lombardi “was actually completely gay” and texted Lombardi links to several porn sites.
Colley “continued to make sexual advance towards Plaintiff despite Plaintiff’s rejections,” the lawsuit says.
Tollison and Colley are also named as defendants in the suit, as is Paula Cohen, described in the complaint as having “supervisory authority” over Lombardi.
“While CBS takes all allegations of workplace misconduct seriously, we believe Mr. Lombardi’s claims are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit,” CBS told TheWrap in a statement.
As a result of the alleged incidents, the lawsuit says, Lombardi “has experienced severe anxiety” and “has had difficulty eating, sleeping and suffers nightmares every night from this harassing behavior.”
Eventually, Lombardi claims that he became so emotionally distressed that he began showing up late for work and was written up for his tardiness.
When Lombardi eventually did reveal the harassment to human resources, an investigation was launched but no recourse was taken, the suit claims. Instead, Lombardi says, the defendants “aggressively increased their hostility” toward him.
In November 2014, Lombardi “could no longer endure the retaliation” and he was “constructively discharged.”
“Too often people think of sexual harassment as man on woman, boss on secretary is the quintessential idea about sexual harassment, but it can very often take the form of even a woman on a man or in this case a man on a man. Sexual harassment takes place regardless of sexual orientation and needs to be dealt with legally and employers need to take heed and not ignore complaints of it,” Lombardi’s attorney, Derek Smith, told TheWrap in a statement. “It’s something that no one should have to put up with or have to resort to a lawsuit to do something about it. It never should have happened in the first place. It’s terrible.”
Alleging discrimination, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, Lombardi is seeking unspecified damages.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.