ESPN’s Jemele Hill issued a statement Monday denying that longtime network personality Chris Berman once left “racially disparaging remarks” in a voice mail to her. The allegation was made by a former ESPN host in a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed Sunday against the network, and Hill said she was “disappointed” that someone she thought was a friend would try to use “a private conversation” for “personal gain.”
In a 93-page complaint, Adrienne Lawrence claimed that a two-year stint at ESPN ended when she was fired in August 2017 for complaining about being harassed. She described the network as “rife with misogyny,” and listed numerous incidents she said occurred there, both to her and others, including some episodes detailed in a December Boston Globe story.
Among Lawrence’s allegations was that in “early 2016,” Hill “received a threatening and racially disparaging voice mail from Berman on her ESPN phone line.” According to Lawrence, Hill notified an ESPN executive about it and forwarded the voice mail, but “nothing was done.”
“A few years ago, I had a personal conflict with Chris Berman, but the way this conflict has been characterized is dangerously inaccurate,” Hill said in her statement, which she posted to her Twitter account.
Hill said that Berman “never” left such a voice mail and that their “conflict was handled swiftly and with the utmost professionalism.” She added, “I felt as if my concerns were being taken seriously by ESPN and addressed in a way that made me feel like a valued employee.”
Lawrence’s filing, made in a U.S. District Court in Connecticut, where ESPN has its headquarters, also made reference to a reported settlement reached by the network in 2015 with a former makeup artist at ESPN who alleged that Berman sexually harassed her. Elsewhere in her complaint, Lawrence painted a portrait of a corporate culture at the network that was hostile to women long before she arrived, and she cited nine causes of action, including retaliation and negligent supervision.
“We conducted a thorough investigation of the claims Adrienne Lawrence surfaced to ESPN and they are entirely without merit,” ESPN said in a statement Monday. “Ms. Lawrence was hired into a two-year talent development program and was told that her contract would not be renewed at the conclusion of the training program. At that same time, ESPN also told 100 other talent with substantially more experience, that their contracts would not be renewed.
“The company will vigorously defend its position and we are confident we will prevail in court.”
In a separate Twitter post Monday, Hill emphasized that her statement was not drafted by ESPN, nor did the network compel her to issue one. “As always, I write my own statements and no one has ever forced me to put out anything,” she said.
The former “SportsCenter” anchor, who has publicly criticized President Trump and in turn been singled out by him for vitriol, joked about taking flak online for her defense of Berman, saying that “there is great irony in me sticking up for a white dude and still being flamed for it.”
Hill concluded her statement on Lawrence’s allegation by stating, “Frankly, I’m more disappointed that someone I considered to be a friend at one point would misrepresent and relay a private conversation without my knowledge — in which I simply attempted to be a sounding board — for personal gain.”
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