Fired Freep editor: 'It was bad judgment'

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson said he is exploring legal action following his termination from the newspaper. 

Stephen Henderson

Officials with the paper said Friday they fired Henderson because an internal investigation found inappropriate behavior toward two female colleagues. There were no accusations or evidence of sexual assault.

"Neither of the co-workers involved had come forward or filed a complaint before the outside allegations were made against me," Henderson said Monday during his "Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson" radio show on WDET-FM (101.9). "The Free Press told me that neither of the two women wants to take any action. The newspaper and its corporate owner, Gannett, still decided to end my employment, saying my conduct violated the company’s standards.

"I disagree with that decision and outcome, and I am exploring legal action."

He said the newspaper said its investigation found the two instances of inappropriate behavior happened in social situations outside of work several years ago. One situation involved sexually themed conversations with a co-worker and the other involves a manager in another department who reported two rejected advances that she said made her uncomfortable.

Neither of the women filed complaints until a Detroit minister raised allegations against Henderson.

Henderson apologized to the women involved.

"It was bad judgment, on my part, to have engaged in either situation," he said. "As a senior leader at the Free Press, I should have acted more responsibly. I also want to apologize to Free Press readers, to our listeners here at WDET, and to viewers of Detroit Public Television."

On Friday, Henderson, 47 and who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for coverage of Detroit’s financial crisis, said he was stunned by the Free Press' decision.

Meanwhile, Henderson will continue to host his radio show.

WDET General Manager Michelle Srbinovich appeared on Henderson's show to discuss the station's decision to keep him on the air.

"Based on the information currently available, WDET did not see cause to terminate Stephen Henderson’s contract at this time and we made the decision to have him return to our airwaves as the host of "Detroit Today" on Monday, December 18th," she said.

"To date, WDET and our license holder, Wayne State University, have not received any complaints against Henderson during his time as a contracted host."

She also said the station is conducting an investigation "to ensure that our staff has the opportunity to share their concerns and report any incidents that require further examination. Any situation that compromises university policies will be dealt with swiftly and decisively."

Henderson also hosts “American Black Journal” and is a contributor for “MiWeek” on WTVS-TV (Channel 56).

Henderson’s termination comes amid accusations made against him by Detroit Pastor Rev. W.J. Rideout III.

Rideout also leveled accusations against WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) news anchor Malcom Maddox. Maddox was placed on leave earlier this month amid allegations of sexual harassment leveled by the Detroit pastor.

Rideout, meanwhile, was suspended from his show on WFDF-AM (910) after questions were raised about the validity of his claims of sexual harassment against WXYZ.

The alleged sexual harassment victims referenced by Rideout have not been identified.