Maddox removed from on-air duty amid harassment claim

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit – WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) anchor Malcom Maddox repeatedly propositioned a colleague for “deviant” sex, according to a sexual harassment lawsuit Tuesday that prompted the station to temporarily remove the anchor from broadcast duty.

Former reporter Tara Edwards sued the station and parent company Scripps Media Inc. in federal court, four months after Maddox temporarily was placed on administrative leave amid allegations involving an unnamed colleague.

Maddox was removed from on-air duties Tuesday “to avoid any further distraction” from the station’s core mission of providing quality local journalism, the company said in the statement.

Edwards describes a pattern of harassment and unwanted advances during her five-year career at the station until she left in December 2016. Maddox tried repeatedly to kiss her at work, called her “little girl” and tried to engage her in sexual acts she considered “deviant and perverse.”

Maddox tricked her into viewing sexually explicit photos and videos, according to the lawsuit. He showed her a photo of a naked colleague while Maddox and Edwards were anchoring the morning news, the lawsuit alleges.

Edwards is seeking punitive and compensatory damages and lost wages exceeding $75,000.

Maddox also repeatedly offered to send Edwards photos of his penis so she could “judge it on a scale of 1 to 10,” the lawsuit alleges.

The E.W. Scripps Co., which owns WXYZ, responded to the suit in a statement from President and CEO Adam Symson.

“Scripps is dedicated to maintaining respectful workplace environments. We take very seriously allegations of sexual harassment or any type of workplace harassment,” Symson said. “We are committed to working promptly and vigorously to pursue employee concerns of mistreatment across all of our operations and to take all actions necessary to ensure our workplaces are free from harassment.”

Maddox did not respond to interview requests.

“After (Edwards) rejected the propositions to accept delivery of pictures of his penis, Mr. Maddox asked (Edwards) to look at a ‘work email’ on his cellphone that turned out to be a picture of his penis,” Michael Hanna, Edwards’ lawyer wrote.

Edwards repeatedly rejected his sexual propositions and behavior, according to the lawsuit.

“Mr. Maddox was repeatedly told by Ms. Edwards to stop targeting her with sexually harassing behavior, which included explicitly telling him that his actions ‘repulsed’ her,” Hanna wrote.

Maddox responded in one text message, the lawsuit alleges.

“...I was hoping you would have liked what you saw if you got a good look,” the text message read. “I wasn’t expecting you to be repulsed …”

The harassment continued, according to the lawsuit.

Maddox spread rumors he was having an affair with Edwards and might be the father of her unborn child, the lawsuit alleges.

The rumors and harassment created a hostile work environment for Edwards, according to the lawsuit.

She made a formal complaint to management in January 2015 and the station conducted an internal investigation, Edwards alleges.

“... other females confirmed that Mr. Maddox engaged in the following types of behavior: inappropriate text messages; sexually perverted comments; and showing female employees pictures of his penis,” Hanna wrote. “During the investigation, Mr. Maddox admitted engaging in inappropriate misconduct of a sexual nature towards female employees of WXYZ-TV.”

Maddox was disciplined, according to the lawsuit but Edwards was told to “respect her boundaries” and was asked if she “thinks she can continue to work here.”

Scripps said Maddox was suspended without pay for two weeks following the 2015 investigation. The probe concluded Maddox had engaged in inappropriate communications with co-workers.

Maddox later was promoted to morning news anchor while Edwards was transferred to the “day shift,” her lawyer wrote in the lawsuit.

“Defendant’s indifferent response to plaintiff’s complaint empowered Mr. Maddox to engage in additional acts of harassment against Ms. Edwards and other female employees,” Hanna wrote. “Mr. Maddox continued to engage in behavior that contributed to an intolerable workplace for Ms. Edwards and other female employees at WXYZ-TV.”

After the internal investigation, Maddox continued to spread false rumors, the lawsuit alleges. The station failed to take any corrective action, against Maddox. Hanna alleges.

On Dec. 31, 2016, Edwards was discharged from her job and she moved to Texas, according to the lawsuit.

“As a result of defendant’s harassment and retaliation, Plaintiff exited the broadcast journalism industry, and no longer works in that field,” her lawyer wrote.

Edwards was not fired or forced out, according to the station’s statement. She left voluntarily for personal reasons, according to the company.

At a news conference Monday afternoon at the Fieger Law office in Southfield, Edwards read a statement saying "the brave women of the 'me too' movement" gave her "the courage to speak out today. I used to think no one would ever believe my story."

"From the beginning, all I ever wanted was for my name to be cleared," she said. "All I ever wanted was for Mr. Maddox to admit the vile, vicious and nasty rumors were not true."

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Twitter: @robertsnellnews

Mike Martindale contributed.