ABC, Former Producer Michael Corn Seek Dismissal of Sexual Assault Lawsuit

Courtesy of Nexstar

Both ABC and the former top producer of its  “Good Morning America” have asked that a sexual-assault lawsuit filed against both of them be dismissed, citing New York’s statute of limitations on harassment claims and alleging the plaintiff in some parts has made charges that are inapplicable.

A lawsuit filed in August in the Supreme Court of the State of New York by ABC News producer Kirstyn Crawford raised troubling allegations that Michael Corn, a longtime senior producer at ABC News who supervised “GMA” until he left in April, had sexually assaulted her and another female staffer, Jill McClain, in separate incidents. The suit also claimed that ABC knew about allegations against Corn, or should have, and did little to reprimand or punish him.

“When Ms. Crawford first came forward in February 2021 with allegations against Michael Corn, they were immediately investigated independently of ABC News by Corporate legal and HR. Following a thorough investigation, Mr. Corn’s employment with ABC News ended. Ms. Crawford then proceeded to file a lawsuit against ABC,” the Disney-owned network said in a statement. “ABC today moved to dismiss those of Ms. Crawford’s claims that the law does not allow her to pursue against ABC, and we will defend against the remaining claims that ABC failed to take appropriate action against Mr. Corn or retaliated against Ms. Crawford.” In a filing Friday, ABC said Crawford and McClain “participated in the extensive independent internal investigation that was immediately initiated. The investigation determined that it was more likely than not that Corn violated ABC’s policies. ABC then promptly terminated Corn’s employment after 17 years of service.”

Milton Williams, an attorney who has been representing Crawford in the matter, said the filings were expected. “Neither ABC’s or Corn’s arguments are a surprise, and were completely anticipated. It is also worth noting that it seems that ABC and Corn are not on the same page with respect to their view of the allegations in the amended complaint,” he said.

In one of Friday’s filings, both made in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Corn’s attorney argues that Crawford’s claims about a 2015 incident in which Corn is alleged to have assaulted Crawford during a trip to Los Angeles to cover the Academy Awards cannot be brought before the court. The filing notes any incident that took place more than three years ago is “indisputably time-barred” under statute of limitations laws and alleges details of the matter were fabricated.

The matter may be difficult to put to rest. ABC News has been roiled by the allegations, which spurred staffers to lob questions about how they were being handled by the unit’s parent, Walt Disney. Crawford’s suit alleges that ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos heard about some of the claims against Corn by Crawford in 2017, and disclosed them to executives and urged Crawford to reach out to an ABC attorney to discuss further. But Crawford, “fearing that making a formal complaint would do more harm than good or even result in losing her job,” did not follow up, according to the suit.  Kim Godwin, who became president of ABC News earlier this year, suggested during a staff conference that the matter should be probed by an independent investigator — a statement that was not embraced by senior Disney executives. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Disney would likely not pursue an independent look into how ABC News handled allegations made against Corn.

Corn was in May named president of news for NewsNation, a news operation launched recently by Nexstar Media Group, which runs programming on a cable network once known as WGN America.

Crawford’s suit also contained allegations by a former ABC News staffer, Jill McClain, who is not a plaintiff but alleged that Corn groped her against her will during a 2010 plane flight from Los Angeles to New York and assaulted her while traveling in London in 2011. Corn’s motion calls McClain’s allegations “false, scandalous, and prejudicial.”

“In sum, the claims against Mr. Corn should be dismissed as a matter of law,” Friday’s filing stated. “In the alternative, this Court should strike the scandalous and unnecessary allegations included solely to harass and unduly prejudice Mr. Corn in the public eye.”

The new motion also sought to cast doubt on Crawford’s motives. “The allegations were a shock to Mr. Corn; the two were close friends and she had recently sought his advice as to whether to stay at ABC News,” the filing stated. The motion alleged Crawford “seeks to impugn and publicly injure her longtime colleague and friend for her own gain.”