In September of 2018, Mark Steines — previously the host of the Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” television show — filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer. In his lawsuit, Mr. Steines alleged that he was fired due to the fact that he reported sexual harassment against coworkers that was committed by an executive producer on the show. Recently, a Los Angeles court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss this claim.
The Claim: Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Harassment
Mark Steines, served as one of the co-hosts of the Hallmark Channel’s program “Home & Family” from its debut in 2012 until he was fired in May 2018. In his lawsuit (Mark Steines v. Crown Media United States, LLC), Steines contends that he was unlawfully terminated by the company because he filed complaints on behalf of a number of employees who were allegedly “bullied, verbally abused, and harassed” by the creator and executive producer of the show Woody Fraser.
More specifically, Mr. Steines alleges that Mr. Fraser targeted “female producers” on the program for abuse. He alleges that female employees of the television product “regularly approached” him with complaints regarding Mr. Fraser’s behavior. In response, Mr. Steines said he “made repeated complaints” to Hallmark Channel management, which “did not take action” against Mr. Fraser. At one point, Mr. Steines even alleges that he forwarded management photographic evidence of Mr. Fraser’s harassment. In early 2017, Mr. Steines provided information as a witness to attorneys representing two employees who filed formal sexual harassment complaints. After this occurred, Mr. Steines alleged Hallmark Channel management took away some of his duties and cut his salary. Finally, they terminated him “after a live show taping” in May 2018, even though there was still three months remaining on his employment contract.
The Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Can Move Forward
In this case, Crown Media — the company that owns the Hallmark Channel — filed a motion to get Mark Steines wrongful termination claim dismissed on a number of different legal grounds. On December 4, 2018, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney denied that motion. A key issue that Judge Carney addressed in the ruling was the defense’s claim that Mr. Steines failed to allege he “was engaged in any protected activity” that could form the basis of a retaliation or wrongful termination claim.
Judge Carney disagreed with this argument. He noted that Mr. Steines alleged a number of incidents where he witnessed or reported sexual harassment and that this was, in and of itself, protected activity under California law. While Mr. Steines presented some of his complaints indirectly — for example, he made certain complaints through his manager — that did not alter the legally protected nature of the activity.
Get Help From a San Francisco Wrongful Termination Lawyer Today
At Minnis & Smallets, LLP, our legal team has the skills and experience to help employees navigate difficult situations. If you were wrongfully terminated for reporting sexual harassment or you faced any other type of unlawful workplace retaliation, we can help. For a confidential consultation, please do not hesitate to contact our San Francisco law office at 1-415-551-0885.