A Fox News producer has filed a lawsuit claiming the network pressured her to give misleading testimony in a separate lawsuit that alleges Fox slandered a voting machine company by amplifying baseless allegations of fraud following the 2020 presidential election.
The lawsuit by Abby Grossberg, who said she is on a forced administrative leave, alleges that the network also discriminated against her based on her gender and Jewish faith. It came as a hearing began Tuesday in Delaware Superior Court in the larger legal battle between Fox and Dominion Voting Systems, which seeks $1.6 billion from the network in its defamation claim.
The Dominion lawsuit provides the legal backdrop for Grossberg's claim and already has embarrassed the network by revealing its personalities' private disdain for former President Donald Trump and illustrating how political pressures can inform its coverage. The case also holds the potential for redefining libel law in the U.S.
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Denver-based Dominion, which sells electronic voting hardware and software, contends that some Fox News employees deliberately amplified false claims by Trump allies that Dominion machines had changed votes in the 2020 election and that Fox provided a platform for guests to make false and defamatory statements about the company.
Attorneys for Fox argue that the network was obligated to report on arguably one of the most newsworthy stories of the time — that a sitting president was claiming he had been cheated out of reelection. Records released previously in the case show the Fox personalities and executives doubted the claims, but gave repeated air time to those making them.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis heard arguments Tuesday on requests by both sides to grant summary judgment in their favor. To prevail, Dominion must convince Davis that Fox employees acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth, and that no reasonable jury could find otherwise.
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Davis told lawyers for both sides he hasn't made up his mind.
“I need to be educated,” the judge said as the hearing began. “I haven’t pre-decided this.”
If Davis allows the case to go forward, the trial is scheduled to start April 17.
Dominion attorney Rodney Smolla began Tuesday's arguments by rejecting Fox’s claim that it should not be held liable for reporting what Trump supporters were saying.
"If you repeat or publish a defamatory statement from someone else, you adopt it as your own,” he said.
He added that Fox’s reputation gave statements being made by Trump allies Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Lindell “gravitas.” Smolla said Fox employees did not engage in neutral reporting, but instead “espoused and endorsed” false statements made by program guests.
“There was a deliberate decision by those responsible for the broadcasts … to let the story be out there,” Smolla said, adding that Fox News was desperate to win back viewers infuriated that the network had correctly called Arizona, a key battleground state, on election night for Joe Biden.
“What they did to get viewers back was start this new narrative that the election had been stolen and that Dominion was the thief,” he said.
Dominion attorneys argued that Fox employees allowed guests to falsely claim that the company had rigged the election, flipped large numbers of votes to Biden through a secret algorithm, was owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for Hugo Chavez, and bribed government officials.
They pointed to deposition testimony and internal communications — including fact checks from a Fox “brain room,” indicating that, within days of the election, many Fox employees harbored serious doubts about those claims: "There’s no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election," according to one fact check from Nov. 13, 2020.
Attorneys for Fox were to present their arguments later in the day.
Meanwhile, in her lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in New York City, Grossberg contends that Fox attorneys advised her against hiring a personal attorney for the case and implied that she should not be “too candid” in her depositions.
"Ms. Grossberg convinced herself that discretion would be the better part of valor in this instance, and decided she would follow the directions of the attorneys who claimed they represented her best interests in connection with her deposition and kept her truth to herself," Grossberg's lawsuit contends.
During her deposition, when asked by a Dominion attorney whether it was important to correct a falsehood that a guest said on one of her shows, Grossberg replied: “No.” In her lawsuit, she says she gave that answer because she thought that was what Fox wanted her to say.
Her lawsuit said she was a producer for the Tucker Carlson show at the time of her leave and had previously worked with another prominent network personality, Maria Bartiromo.
Fox countered with its own lawsuit, seeking to bar Grossberg from sharing confidential discussions with company lawyers.
“Her allegations in connection with the Dominion case are baseless and we will vigorously defend Fox against all of her claims,” the network said in a statement.
Grossberg also alleges that she already was struggling to advance her career at the network in the face of sexism.
Her lawsuit alleges that she received a poor performance review earlier this year after complaining about repeated sexual discrimination at Fox, especially on Carlson's show, to which she had recently been transferred. She claims that the show's offices were decorated with a poster of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a revealing bathing suit and that the show's staffers engaged in crude sexist banter about female politicians.
Riccardi reported from Denver.