Statements of Opinion Do Not Qualify as Defamation

Melissa McGurren, former co-host of the popular radio show, “Eric in the Morning,” recently sued Hubbard Radio Chicago for allegedly defaming her in an internal email in which an executive of the radio station said they did not agree with McGurren’s statements about workplace harassment at the station. McGurren alleges the email defamed her to her former coworkers because it implied she was a liar, but according to a federal judge, defendants need to do more than imply in order to be found guilty of defamation.

McGurren spent more than two decades working at WTMX-101.9-FM, the radio station that hosts “Eric in the Morning,” but she left the station in 2020, saying her years of complaining about Eric Ferguson’s behavior, both on and off the air, were ignored by station executives. Among other things, McGurren described her fear of working in the same room as Ferguson during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, she said she worked in a space where she was separated from Ferguson by a window because her asthma and other medical issues put her at high risk for COVID-19. According to McGurren, Ferguson harassed her about the setup until she agreed to get back in the studio with him in June of 2020, even though she said she still felt very uncomfortable doing so.

According to her lawsuit, Jeff England, the vice president of the station, allegedly defamed her when he said in an email to the station’s staff that the station did not agree with the way she had characterized events with Ferguson. In her defamation lawsuit, McGurren alleged the email amounted to telling her former coworkers she was a liar, but a federal judge disagrees.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman said the email merely acknowledged McGurren’s concerns about Ferguson’s behavior and that it did not agree with her, which makes it a statement of opinion. Since a statement of opinion is not enough to meet the requirements for defamation, Guzman dismissed the case against Hubbard Radio Chicago.

McGurren is far from the only one to complain about Ferguson’s behavior. Cynthia DeNicolo, an assistant producer of the “Eric in the Morning” show, who would also on occasion work as a babysitter for Ferguson and his wife at the time, has also sued the radio station over Ferguson’s behavior. According to DeNicolo, Ferguson used his prominent position at the radio station to coerce her into sex acts when she began working for WTMX. When she began refusing his advances, she alleges Ferguson taunted her in front of coworkers for years afterwards.

As allegations against Ferguson began to surface, they created enough of an outcry from the public that Ferguson eventually stepped down as host of the morning show last October. He said in a statement that he was energized to move forward and defend himself against the claims made about his behavior.

At Lubin Austermuehle, we help clients navigate the complex laws and emotionally charged pathways to a court victory or settlement in slander and libel cases, as well as a vast range of other disputes from class action suits to breach of contract. We serve clients throughout Chicagoland from Waukegan, to Skokie and beyond. You can contact us online here or call us on our locally at 630-333-0333. Take advantage of our FREE consultation, where we can discuss your specific needs and wishes and our ability to meet them.

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