In a Friday interview with the Connecticut Law Tribune, Wigdor LLP partners Michael Willemin and Jeanne Christensen said there are many past and current female employees of the Bristol-based network who were allegedly sexually harassed like Lawrence. The attorneys said they will seek class action status as soon as they are officially admitted on the case by a judge. That procedural matter, Christensen said, should be done soon.
“We are not going to delay. Once we are admitted into the case (pro hac vice) and can appear, our intention is to 100 percent proceed with the case on a class basis,” Willemin said. “ESPN has promoted a systematic culture and policy and practice to permit males in a position of power to discriminate against women.”
Willemin, whose firm took over the case from Lachtman Cohen and Yankwitt LLP Aug. 15, said the class would take into consideration the statute of limitations period. “Depending on what the causes of action are, it (statute of limitations) can be anywhere from three to four years.” Willemin would not say how many women would be listed in the class, but said, “it will be a significant number.”
Wigdor was founded in 2003 and is based in New York City. The firm has 12 attorneys, including seven partners and five associates. Employment litigation and the handling of sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits are among the firm’s special areas of litigation, according to its website.
Lawrence, a former attorney herself, has accused ESPN of failing to address her highly publicized complaints of harassment and abuse against SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross. Lawrence claims that, soon after she arrived at ESPN in August 2015, she was merely “fresh meat” and was soon being harassed by Buccigross. Lawrence clams she was fired in August 2017 for complaining about the alleged abuse.
Lawrence, who according to her Twitter account, is a Madden NFL 18 sideline reporter based in her native California, claims ESPN personalities have a “long history of sexually harassing and mistreating women that is well documented and incontrovertible.” The lawsuit cites nine causes of action including sexual discrimination and harassment, negligent supervision, creating a hostile work environment, and aiding abetting and retaliation.
While the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages, Willemin said it’s more than just money for Lawrence.
“She wants to take this through to the end,” said Willemin, who has been representing victims of sexual harassment for seven years. “She is committed to cleaning up what is a very, very toxic and inappropriate workplace at ESPN. She is hoping this lawsuit will assist in accomplishing that goal and also to make it easier for other women who have been subjected to similar treatment to come forward and not be alone.”
Willemin said he is proud to represent Lawrence. “This is an important case,” he said. “We take pride in representing an individual who has been subjected to retaliation and harassment and discrimination. We also take pride in representing someone who is going up against one of the most powerful companies in the world.” ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Co.
Said Christensen: “This kind of behavior is hard to shock us, because we’ve been doing this (representing victims of alleged sexual harassment) for so long. It’s (sexual harassment and misconduct) built into the culture there (at ESPN).”
ESPN is represented by Raymond Bertrand and Patrick Shea, both partners with Paul Hastings. Neither attorney responded to a request for comment Monday.
In court papers filed in April, ESPN claimed the suit has no merit.
“Lawrence claimed that ESPN employee John Buccigross sent her unsolicited and inappropriate text messages. ESPN responded by publishing the relevant text messages, refuting Lawrence’s mischaracterization of her relationship and communications with Buccigross,” ESPN wrote in its motion to dismiss. “Now, in the face of public criticism that she misrepresented facts to the Boston Globe, Lawrence is attempting to use this court to silence ESPN. But, Connecticut law does not allow her to punish the company for exercising its constitutionally protected rights to free expression and to petition the government.”
The court papers filed by ESPN continue: “Her claim is deficient as a matter of law because the excerpted text messages published by ESPN are accurate and no reasonable person would find them highly offensive. In the face of this undeniable fact, Lawrence attempts to bolster her claim and seize more headlines with an untethered conspiracy theory ESPN deployed bot armies and fake Twitter accounts to condemn her.”
Prior to joining ESPN, Lawrence was employed at McGuireWoods in Washington, D.C. and Greenberg Traurig in New York City. She had previously clerked for Judge Eric Washington at the D.C. Court of Appeals and as litigation associate at Arent Fox. She also taught criminal and tort law at Strayer University. In 2008, at age 24, Lawrence received her law degree from the George Washington University Law School.