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'Jeopardy!' fans question rumored host front-runner after past discrimination lawsuits surface

"Jeopardy!" executive producer Mike Richards is in advanced negotiations to host the show, according to Variety.
Image: Mike Richards on the set of \"Jeopardy.\"
Mike Richards on the set of "Jeopardy."Carol Kaelson / Jeopardy Productions

"Jeopardy!" fans are upset over reports that the show's executive producer, Mike Richards, is the apparent front-runner to replace beloved host Alex Trebek after past harassment and discrimination lawsuits against Richards resurfaced.

The long-running television game show has not announced a new permanent host, but Variety reported that Richards was in advanced negotiations for the coveted gig. "Jeopardy!" has been on the hunt for a new host after Trebek's death in November from pancreatic cancer.

The show declined to comment this week on the news that Richards is reportedly in negotiations.

Richards joined the show last year as executive producer and filled in as guest host from late February to early March. Variety reported that Sony Pictures Television, which produces "Jeopardy!", was impressed with Richards' on-air manner and command of the game.

But some viewers weren't thrilled and vented their frustrations on social media. Many fans were upset that actor LeVar Burton wasn't the choice and others pointed out that Richards had been involved in two discrimination lawsuits.

"Another lawsuit against Mike Richards. Did you just not care? No one will watch @Jeopardy with such a toxic person as host and executive producer," one Twitter user wrote.

"@Jeopardy is so set to tank Alex Trebek's legacy," another Twitter user posted, adding: "they are going with a bland and pedestrian host with a disturbing past. Do better #Jeopardy!"

Richards has not publicly addressed the lawsuits. NBC News has reached out to Sony Pictures Television for comment. "Jeopardy" declined to comment on the allegations made against Richards in the lawsuits. Richards was not available to comment.

One of the suits was filed by Brandi Cochran, a former model for "The Price Is Right," who said she was fired after she became pregnant. The suit, filed in March 2010, listed the defendants as the CBS Corp., CBS Television Network, Fremantle Media, and “The Price Is Right.”

Richards, who was a producer for "The Price Is Right," was not listed as a defendant but was accused in the suit of treating Cochran differently after she announced she was pregnant in late 2008.

“After learning of Cochran’s pregnancy, defendants’ executive producer Mike Richards did not talk to her as frequently as before,” the suit stated. “Unlike other co-workers, he did not congratulate her on being pregnant.”

It also accused Richards of telling another model that she would get more work because of Cochran's pregnancy. According to the suit, the model later allegedly told Cochran that Richards had said to her: “Go figure! I fire five girls … What are the odds?”

Cochran, the lawsuit said, took Richards' comment to mean that he would have fired her if he had known she was pregnant.

The suit went on to allege that Cochran was pressured to reveal her pregnancy on-air because co-workers told her she was beginning to show. It said that it was announced that she was expecting twins, Richards “asked her twice, in an annoyed tone, 'Twins? Are you serious? … You’re serious?'”

Cochran was booked less after that exchange with Richards, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also said that other producers made comments about Cochran's weight, her appearance and her eating habits. According to the complaint, Cochran had a difficult pregnancy and lost one of her twins due to an in-utero heart defect.

After her maternity leave ended, Cochran tried to return to "The Price Is Right" but was not booked for work, the lawsuit stated. She eventually learned that she had been terminated, according to the lawsuit.

The case went to trial and a jury awarded Cochran more than $8 million. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge later overturned it and Cochran and the defendants settled outside of court, documents show.

In 2011, another "Price Is Right" model filed a lawsuit. Richards, along with Fremantle Media and producer Adam Sandler, were named as defendants. (The Sandler named in the suit is not the actor Adam Sandler.)

According to The Los Angeles Times, model Lanisha Cole accused Richards in the lawsuit of treating her differently than the other models.

"Specifically, without limitation, Defendant Richards refused to speak with Plaintiff about anything, work-related or not, under any circumstance," according to a copy of the lawsuit posted by the Times.

The suit said that Richards would write notes and give them to other models and staff to pass to Cole.

"Plaintiff is informed and believes that none of the TPIR models were ignored by Defendant Richards or given notes in this manner," it stated, further alleging that "this dramatically changed the atmosphere in the workplace for Plaintiff."

The suit claimed that around the time Richards stopped speaking to Cole he had begun an intimate relationship with another model.

Cole also alleged that Sandler burst into her dressing room and berated her in front of her peers for not wearing a microphone. According to the lawsuit, Cole eventually quit the show because she didn't think her concerns were ever properly investigated.

Richards was later dropped as a defendant and the suit was settled in 2013, according to The Daily Beast.

NBC News has reached out to CBS Corporation, Fremantle Media, "The Price Is Right" and Sandler for comments on the allegations raised in the lawsuits.