Former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo filed an arbitration demand of $125 million against the network and its parent company on Wednesday, saying he was wrongly terminated last year and has since suffered serious blows to his reputation.
Lawyers for Cuomo, who was fired in December after CNN determined he’d inappropriately advised his brother and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo on responding to numerous sexual misconduct allegations, say the anchor is owed both the money and an apology.
“As CNN has admitted, network standards were changed in a calculated decision to boost ratings,” Cuomo’s lawyer Bryan Freedman told HuffPost. “When those practices were called into question, Chris was made the scapegoat.”
Cuomo’s lawyers argued in Wednesday’s filing that CNN enjoyed the benefits of Cuomo’s relationship with the governor when it served the network, only to punish him when it did not.
“While Gov. Cuomo was riding high as a widely popular leader in the Democratic Party, CNN was more than happy to benefit from the connection between the governor and CNN’s most popular news anchor,” the filing says, claiming that the network pushed the Cuomos to appear on air together despite both brothers expressing reservations that it would not be journalistically appropriate.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, CNN said there was “significant human interest” in seeing the brothers discuss the crisis on air and that it had decided to make an exception to its rule that Cuomo not interview the governor.
A CNN spokesperson declined to comment on any of the allegations in the filing.
Cuomo’s lawyers allege that CNN and its parent company, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., went so far as to try to stop the governor from appearing on other networks. During his appearances, they claim, CNN leaders sometimes gave the governor talking points for responding to then-President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chris Cuomo doesn’t deny that he helped his brother figure out responses to sexual misconduct allegations that began piling up against the governor in late 2020, but he said in Wednesday’s filing that he always kept CNN abreast of his involvement.
“The nature of what Cuomo was doing in acting as a sounding board to Gov. Cuomo and his staff was well known to then-CNN president Jeff Zucker and his second-in-command, Allison Gollust,” the filing states. Both of them are repeatedly named throughout the lawsuit.
It wasn’t until the publication of a Washington Post story about Cuomo participating in his brothers’ strategy calls that the network told the anchor he needed to stop. Zucker then began saying publicly that Cuomo had crossed a line.
“Cuomo had no reason to believe that his assistance to Gov. Cuomo was inconsistent with CNN’s or Turner’s policies nor its expectations, especially given the fact that Zucker and Gollust had encouraged him to do so and had themselves provided advice to Gov. Cuomo,” the filing states.
CNN fired Cuomo last December after a New York State Attorney General’s report on the governor’s sexual misconduct allegations revealed some of the brothers’ exchanges, but his lawyers argued Wednesday that there was nothing in the report that CNN was not already aware of.
The filing does not acknowledge a recent New York Times report that Chris Cuomo was also facing a sexual assault allegation at the time of his firing.
For the circumstances around his termination, the former anchor is seeking $15 million from the network. His demand for the other $110 million concerns his claims that CNN violated his termination agreement by not informing other employees that they could not publicly disparage him. Network stars Jake Tapper, Brian Stelter and Don Lemon all spoke ill of Cuomo on air after his firing, the filing says.
“Cuomo has had his journalistic integrity unjustifiably smeared, making it difficult if not impossible for Cuomo to find similar work in the future,” his lawyers wrote, saying he has had “future wages lost as a result of CNN’s efforts to destroy his reputation in violation of the Agreement.”
CNN has not backed down from its stance that Cuomo was rightfully terminated. Last month, the network told staff that a third-party law firm, led by a former federal judge, found in its months of investigation that Cuomo, along with Zucker and Gollust ― who have also since resigned ― had all violated CNN’s news standards and practices.