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A former top executive at Meredith Corp. showed up at the company’s San Francisco office three months after he was fired over racist remarks to “verbally assault and harass a female employee,” according to court documents released Friday. U.S. Magistrate Ross Walters on Friday unsealed documents in a lawsuit between the Des Moines-based media company and Kevin O’Brien, former president of its broadcast group, including the company’s complaint and a copy of his employment contract. Meredith, which publishes specialty books and magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, filed the lawsuit Nov. 22, about a month after firing O’Brien. It asks a judge to affirm that the company had good cause for firing O’Brien, pre-empting his expected legal challenge. If the judge finds against the company, it would have to pay off the remainder of his contract. O’Brien also would receive performance and longevity bonuses. The total could be more than $1 million. A company investigation found that O’Brien, in charge of 13 television stations and half of its 2,600 employees, had repeatedly made remarks disparaging blacks and women. The company fired O’Brien Oct. 28. In court papers, the company said O’Brien showed up at its San Francisco office on Jan. 18 and “was abusive, belligerent and hostile,” causing an employee to “reasonably fear for her safety.” Two employees said in sworn affidavits that as they were leaving the office that day, they were met by O’Brien at the elevators. He started to berate one of them, calling her a “creep” and yelling “I can’t believe you still work here!” according to the affidavits. “In all my working with many different types of people, I have never been in fear for my personal safety or felt threatened to the extent I feel threatened by Mr. O’Brien,” the employee, identified as the West Coast manager of Country Home Magazine, said in the affidavit. She said she reported the incident to San Francisco police. The company said it already had changed the locks to keep him out, one of several steps meant to ensure its workers’ safety. Telephone messages left Friday for O’Brien’s lawyers were not immediately returned. Meredith acknowledged in court documents that the dispute with O’Brien already had caused “business disruptions and humiliation.” “The company now must also contend with the possibility that widespread publication of the defendant’s misdeeds will create distractions in the operations of its business,” company lawyer L. Traywick Duffie wrote in a court filing last month. Meredith filed its complaint under seal, keeping secret what it said was a confidential employment contract, but O’Brien’s lawyers claimed the company was trying to cover up the dispute. Walters on Friday granted a motion by O’Brien’s lawyers to lift the seal, making the files public. The judge denied a request by Meredith to withdraw an eight-page internal memo detailing the reasons for O’Brien’s firing, saying it has been part of the public record for some time. Meredith wanted to black out the names of some employees in the document. The contents of that document, reported Thursday by The Associated Press, said an investigation found O’Brien had made racist remarks, including, “We’ve got to quit hiring all these black people,” and “You shouldn’t hire old black guys. These guys don’t listen.” Last month, the company announced it had hired veteran television executive Paul Karpowicz to replace O’Brien, who remains unemployed. Meredith has television stations in Atlanta, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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