Ashley Bianco was fired by CBS News this week after her former employer, ABC News, determined she had accessed footage of “20/20” host Amy Robach that was later leaked. On Friday, Bianco said she “never” leaked the clip to the right-wing advocacy group Project Veritas or anyone else — but even if she did, why should CBS News fire her over what might have happened at her previous job?
The episode raises the question of whether Bianco, a young producer who had only worked at CBS for four days before she was let go, could sue for wrongful termination.
But two veteran employment attorneys told TheWrap that since New York, where CBS News employed her, is an “at will” state Bianco likely has no legal grounds to challenge her abrupt dismissal.
If she was working at-will, as most TV news producers do in the industry, that “means they can terminate her for any reason of no reason at all, like any other employee and in New York,” employment lawyer Emre Polat said, adding that termed contracts requiring justifiable grounds for termination tend to be reserved for executives or correspondents.
For comparison, Polat described a situation in another industry. “An employee that got fired at a bank for theft or fraud can apply for another bank and if that bank found out that the employee was accused of fraud or theft, they can still terminate that employee. They don’t have to be right,” he said.
He pointed out that it would be another matter if Bianco were a member of a protected class and it could be proven she was discriminated against.
“Even if a person doesn’t have a contract and is an at-will employee, they may still have recourse under anti-discrimination statutes,” employment discrimination attorney Michael Pospis said. “Here in New York, there really is no such thing as a free-standing claim of wrongful termination.”
Polat said he has a feeling CBS News just doesn’t want to “deal with it, whether they’re right or wrong.”
CBS News has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
In her interview with Kelly on the former Fox News host’s new YouTube channel, Bianco said she was blindsided by her firing. “I begged. I pleaded. I didn’t know what I had done wrong and I just, you know, I didn’t — I wasn’t even given the professional courtesy to defend myself,” she said. “You know, I didn’t even know what I was accused of.”