It appears Michael Corn and ABC News are not out of the woods just yet.
Portions of an August 2021 sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Good Morning America producer Kirstyn Crawford against the former executive in charge of GMA that were dismissed by a New York judge last June were reinstated by a New York appellate court Tuesday morning.
Milt Williams, a lawyer for Crawford, said at the time of the original dismissal last year that his client planned to appeal the case. It appears they were relatively successful in their pursuit.
In her original complaint, Crawford alleged, “Over the course of a decade, between 2010 and 2021, Corn sexually assaulted at least two female [ABC News] employees who reported to him, Plaintiff and Jill McClain (‘McClain’).”
Crawford claimed that Corn assaulted her in 2015 during a business trip to Los Angeles, and that the incidents took place in an Uber ride after a party and later at their hotel. Her complaint states: “while in an Uber to their hotel, Corn pulled Crawford’s head into his chest and began kissing her and rubbing her legs. Each time Crawford tried to pull away, Corn pulled her right back. Later that evening, after Crawford believed she had escaped to her hotel room, Corn came to Crawford’s room for the express purpose of attempting to have sex with her.”
The other employee Crawford names in the complaint, Jill McClain is a former ABC producer and former assistant to Diane Sawyer. Crawford alleges that McClain was sexually assaulted by Corn when the two worked at World News Tonight in 2010 and 2011, before Corn transitioned to Good Morning America. The assaults allegedly took place on two business trips, “once on a redeye flight from Los Angeles to New York, and once in London—both times while traveling with McClain for ABC business.”
McClain isn’t a plaintiff in Crawford’s lawsuit and even though the allegations she makes are too old to form the basis of a separate claim, they were included in support of Crawford’s case, according to the lawsuit.
McClain left ABC News in 2013.
New York County Civil Court Judge Barbara Jaffe dismissed Crawford’s original lawsuit in June 2022, writing that the three-year statute of limitations on the assault accusation had passed and that Corn’s behavior, “while boorish, ill-advised and inappropriate,” did not “create a hostile work environment.”
Also, Jaffe wrote, “much of the conduct, moreover, was not directed at plaintiff.”
TVNewser has learned that Judge Jaffe has since retired from the court so the case will now be heard by a different judge.
Corn, who currently oversees news programming for NewsNation, exited ABC News in April 2021, shortly before Kim Godwin was hired as ABC News president. In a filing to dismiss Crawford’s suit in October 2021, ABC News had said it terminated Corn after an “investigation determined that it was more likely than not that Corn violated ABC’s policies.”
Corn has previously denied all sexual harassment allegations made against him, including the McClain allegations, previously calling them “fabricated.”
“After I allegedly touched her on an airplane, Jill repeatedly booked our future air travel to sit next to me, she invited me to her wedding — including a pre-wedding event that was limited to her immediate family and closest friends — and she repeatedly communicated to me and my wife that she missed me after leaving her position at ABC. These are not the words and actions of a woman who had been assaulted,” Corn said in a statement after McClain made the allegations.
Crawford, who also no longer works at ABC News, claimed that after the ordeal, she declined to travel with her boss and he retaliated against her as a result. She also said that after that 2015 trip, Corn created a hostile work environment at Good Morning America.
She added that while GMA co-anchor George Stephanopoulos urged her to report the alleged assault, the then-GMA comms chief Heather Riley, “cautioned Crawford that reporting the assault and harassment might get ‘messy,’” according to Crawford’s lawsuit.
Riley is no longer with ABC News.
Crawford also claimed that ABC News, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, knew of the alleged sexual assault going back to “as early as 2017 … Yet, ABC did nothing to protect Plaintiff or remove Corn from his position of power.”
ABC News previously denied Crawford’s allegations against the network and said in a statement that the company was “committed to upholding a safe and supportive work environment and have a process in place that thoroughly reviews and addresses complaints that are made.
Crawford’s lawsuit created some tension at ABC News in fall 2021. Godwin asked then-Disney TV boss Peter Rice (who was fired from Disney last June) if leadership would conduct an independent investigation into how the company handled the sexual harassment allegations made against Corn. However, Rice angered some ABC News staffers when he announced that Disney was not going to follow through on the ABC News president’s request.
The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division’s First Department heard the appeal on April 26, 2023, and yesterday, the appeals court said it decided to overturn the lower court’s decision to dismiss the hostile-work-environment and sex-discrimination claims against Corn, an update first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The court said the allegations supporting her hostile-work-environment and sex-discrimination claims were timely, “as she has sufficiently alleged facts comprising ‘a single continuing pattern of unlawful conduct,’” and consequently remained part of the suit.
The appeals court also overturned a lower court decision to strike allegations in Crawford’s amended complaint about a different sexual assault allegation by Corn of McClain.
“Jill McClain’s allegations of sexual assault against Michael Corn will also be part of the Crawford case,” Williams, who is also representing McClain, told WSJ.
The appeals court said Corn and ABC News “failed to demonstrate that allegations concerning alleged prior bad acts should be precluded, as any evidence regarding those allegations may be relevant to plaintiff’s hostile-work-environment claim.” The court upheld the dismissal of Crawford’s allegations that her career suffered and she was denied a promotion as a result of Corn’s alleged actions.
“There is no allegation that Corn denied her a promotion during the limitations period, and she failed to adequately plead a pattern of unlawful conduct relating to her promotion,” the appeals court said.
“We are pleased that the Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of Ms. Crawford’s quid pro quo sexual harassment claim,” Meredith Cavallaro, Corn’s lawyer, told WSJ. Cavallaro said she expected the hostile-work-environment claim to eventually be dismissed on merits.
Both ABC News and NewsNation declined to comment on the matter.