Dismissal of Melissa McGurren's defamation suit doesn't end legal claims against Eric Ferguson, The Mix

Melissa McGurren and Eric Ferguson (Photo: 101.9 The Mix Chicago)

The dismissal of Melissa McGurren's $10 million defamation lawsuit against Hubbard Radio Chicago doesn't mean the end of legal problems for Eric Ferguson or the parent company of hot adult-contemporary WTMX 101.9-FM.

McGurren, you'll recall, was co-host of Ferguson's morning show when she left in 2020 after 22 years at The Mix.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in later court filings, McGurren said Ferguson subjected her to an “unbearable hostile work environment” with the knowledge of their bosses. She also described a pattern of abuse against women at the station by Ferguson.

101.9 The Mix

In response, Jeff England, vice president and market manager of Hubbard Radio Chicago, sent an email to staff — published here — that read in part: "This is not a new development, and we’ve thoroughly investigated this matter previously. Suffice it to say that we do not agree with Melissa’s characterization of events, but we are committed to following the appropriate process and not litigating this matter in the public or the press."

England's October 5 email prompted McGurren to sue for defamation, alleging that his statement falsely branded her a liar by attacking her credibility and integrity.

Last week U.S. District Court Judge Ronald A. Guzmán rejected McGurren's claim and granted Hubbard’s motion to dismiss her suit.

In the four-page ruling dated March 1, Guzmán wrote: “Taken in context, a reasonable reader would not understand the internal email by England to have been made for the purpose of causing harm to Plaintiff’s reputation or lowering her standing in the community, but rather to acknowledge the existence of the EEOC claim, convey to the radio station’s employees that the matter is being investigated, and indicate that the radio station does not agree with Plaintiff’s interpretation.

“Moreover, the email does not discuss any particular factual allegations, and the Court disagrees with Plaintiff’s position that by referring generally to Plaintiff’s EEOC Charge in his email, England was specifically incorporating Plaintiff’s numerous factual allegations and branding Plaintiff a ‘liar’ as to each.”

Cynthia DeNicolo

While McGurren, who now hosts mornings on Audacy country WUSN 99.5-FM, continues to pursue her claims against the company in arbitration, the case of Cynthia DeNicolo goes on.

DeNicolo, who was an associate producer on the morning show for 20 years before she was laid off in 2020, accused Ferguson in a lawsuit of coercing her into performing unwelcome sexual acts in 2004. She also claimed Ferguson engineered her dismissal.

Like McGurren, DeNicolo sued Hubbard for defamation after the company said it “found no evidence to corroborate allegations of illegal workplace conduct.” Hubbard attorneys are seeking to have that suit dismissed as well.

“We are disappointed by the court’s ruling on the defamation claim and are reviewing the path forward," Carmen D. Caruso, the attorney representing McGurren and DeNicolo, told me Saturday. “And we are confident of our client's underlying claims against Hubbard and look forward to our hearing in arbitration."

The weekend also brought polite responses declining to comment from Ferguson and England.

Ferguson, a Radio Hall of Famer and once Chicago's highest paid radio personality, stepped down in October after 25 years at The Mix.

"I’m energized to move forward and defend myself against claims made against me and the station, and look forward to seeing them through to their conclusion," Ferguson said at the time. "I am confident that at the end of the day the courts will rule and the right outcome will prevail.”

Chris Petlak, who co-hosted afternoons on The Mix, was named in January to succeed Ferguson as morning host alongside regular contributors Nikki Chuminatto, Brian Paruch and Violeta Podrumedic and executive producer John Swanson.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, mornings on The Mix tied for fifth place overall with a 4.5 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 339,200.

Christy Gutowski and Tracy Swartz of the Chicago Tribune first reported on DeNicolo’s suit against Ferguson in September and have continued to advance the story.

Friday's comment of the day: Linda Shafran: Deloris MeBain was a sparkling light at NBC Tower. A wonderful woman. May she rest in power.