Producer at CBS News' '60 Minutes' accused of gender discrimination and retaliation in lawsuit

Cassandra Vinograd claims in the lawsuit that she hasn't been given any work in 2½ months after she filed a complaint against the producer.
Image: CBS
CBS Corp. in New York.Michael Nagle / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Safia Samee Ali

An associate producer at CBS News filed a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the company on Tuesday, claiming she was stripped of work and told to stay quiet after she filed a complaint against a prominent producer for "60 Minutes" who she alleged sent her an inappropriate photo and engaged in excessive alcohol use during work hours.

In the 29-page lawsuit, Cassandra Vinograd, a London-based associate producer, alleges several "serious concerns regarding highly inappropriate, unprofessional and upsetting events" involving producer Michael Gavshon, who is characterized as one of the network's "pre-eminent producers." Gavshon is not named as a respondent in the lawsuit.

Vinograd, who previously worked for NBC News in London, alleged that Gavshon openly consumed alcohol at work and in the field in front of several CBS employees but that it was part of the culture at the company to tolerate the behavior despite Gavshon's becoming "belligerent or passed out drunk" on several occasions, according to the complaint.

While Vinograd was still fairly new to the company, according to the complaint, she joined Gavshon and several other crew members for a two-week work trip to Hungary, where Gavshon often "consumed so much alcohol that Cassie and other employees would have to repeat things to him as well as decipher his slurred words."

Shortly after they returned from the trip, Gavshon texted Vinograd an inappropriate photo of him and another man urinating, the suit alleges. When she didn't respond, Gavshon texted her one hour later saying he was "sorry" and had meant to send it to his sister, instead, according to the complaint.

Despite knowing that Gavshon "controlled her fate at CBS," Vinograd emailed several members of CBS's human resources and legal team to request an investigation into the photo incident, as well as Gavshon's excessive alcohol use during work hours, the complaint says.

The lawsuit says Vinograd was then put on a "de facto suspension" for one week while company officials looked into the matter. Gavshon was allowed to continue working during this time, the suit says.

The investigation eventually concluded that the photo was a "mistake" and that Vinograd's claim of excessive alcohol use was "not corroborated," the complaint says. However, by that time, Gavshon had begun to professionally retaliate against her for speaking up, it says.

Gavshon excluded Vinograd from all projects, work meetings, calls and emails, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that he removed Vinograd from all stories in production, including a segment she had pitched and on which she had performed the majority of the work.

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The suit says CBS executives did nothing to stop the "blatant retaliation," and a member of the company's human resources team told her to stay silent or else "gossip" would inevitably erupt that would malign her character.

The lawsuit claims that Vinograd hasn't been given any work at the company in 2½ months, a development that it says she believes is directly related to her having filed the internal complaint.

"Contrary to CBS's claims that it is doing the right thing when female employees report gender-related misconduct, as alleged, it appears that no meaningful changes to the culture at CBS have been made. It appears that CBS continues to protect senior male talent at the expense of junior women — business as usual," said Jeanne M. Christensen, a lawyer representing Vinograd. "We look forward to holding CBS accountable for its unlawful conduct as alleged in the complaint by our client Cassandra Vinograd."

CBS News said in a statement that they are "reviewing" Vinograd's claims and plan "to vigorously defend against this lawsuit."

"CBS thoroughly and immediately investigated the matter in accordance with its policies. Subsequently, Ms. Vinograd asked to no longer work with Mr. Gavshon and CBS has made every reasonable effort to honor this request. CBS News vehemently denies there was any retaliation," the statement said.

Gavshon said in a statement that he intended to send the lewd photo to his sister since she had just returned from a funeral for a childhood friend who is seen in the picture.

"I sent her a picture of me with my friend who had just died and two others burning our school notebooks after our final high school exams. I was 17 years old at the time. In the photo, my friend who passed away and I were urinating on the fire. It was an act of immature adolescent rebellion 46 years ago," he said.

After realizing that Vinograd had received the image, Gavshon said he immediately deleted it and apologized "profusely."

"The following day I went in early and reported the incident. I cooperated with an investigation by the company and was told not to come into work during the course of the investigation. I continue to regret this mistake and sincerely apologize for it.

"I also want to refute Ms. Vinograds allegations regarding drinking and add that I have an established record of responsible behavior at work over the last thirty years," he said.

This is not the first time the network has been rocked by accusations from female employees of gross misconduct. The company faced an onslaught of criticism after several high-level people at the company were accused of harassment as part of the #MeToo movement.

Les Moonves resigned as chairman and chief executive of CBS Corp. after six women accused him on the record of sexual harassment or assault, including the actress Cybill Shepherd.

Talk show host and journalist Charlie Rose was fired by CBS News, PBS and Bloomberg after eight women accused him of sexual harassment and unwanted advances.

CBS News fired Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," after several women told The New Yorker that Fager touched them inappropriately.

In addition to those claims, The New Yorker reported that 19 current and former CBS employees, many of whom were not identified by name, alleged that Fager allowed harassment in the news division.