DOCUMENT: Celebrity

Weather Channel In Sex Storm

On block, cable network seeks cloak on anchor harassment details

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Weather Channel In Sex Storm

MAY 6--As The Weather Channel's owner negotiates a multibillion-dollar sale of the cable outlet, the network's lawyers are angling to keep secret the details of a blistering arbitration ruling in favor of a former anchorwoman who charges that she was subjected to unrelenting sexual harassment by her male co-anchor, who was "romantically obsessed" with her and frequently made crude remarks like, "Will you lick my swizzle stick?"

Hillary Andrews, 38, contends that the cable network's brass turned a blind eye to the harassment because her co-anchor, Bob Stokes, was popular with viewers and scored high ratings. According to recent court filings, Andrews won her arbitration case three months ago and the final ruling was "highly critical of conduct by both Stokes and TWC management."

The network is now seeking to keep details of the arbitrator's 17-page report secret, while Andrews wants to publicly file the document in a lawsuit she has brought against the 50-year-old Stokes in a Georgia state court.

In an April 24 federal court filing, an excerpt of which you'll find here, Andrews reported that "TWC fired Stokes the day after" the arbitration award was issued on January 31 and is now "understandably eager to assure that the Arbitrator's findings and conclusions never see the light of day."

Stokes did not respond to a phone message left at his home and his attorney, Jeff Kent, declined comment on the court actions.

Court records show that Andrews was paired with Stokes after her September 2003 hiring, and that she replaced a female "on-camera meteorologist" who had worked with Stokes for three years. According to Andrews's lawsuit against Stokes, the prior anchor was abused daily by him and "routinely hid in the women's dressing room in between shifts to avoid contact with him." The woman, Andrews added, eventually resigned after repeatedly complaining to management about Stokes's harassment.

Andrews claims that "history quickly repeated itself" when Stokes began harassing her, though his behavior was "worse for [her] than for her predecessors because Stokes was sexually attracted to her and romantically obsessed with her." Stokes, she claimed, made crude sexual remarks to her, leered at her chest, and followed her into the women's dressing room.

He also allegedly questioned her "over and over again, non-stop" about her sex life, and once noted, "It tortures me when you wear those heels and skirt." When she rebuffed his advances, Andrews charged, Stokes's "hostility and volatility became a constant" and he sought to "sabotage" her on-air performance and even resorted to insulting her during live shows.

Though initially "loath to complain" about Stokes for fear of "career suicide," Andrews eventually reported his behavior to TWC officials and sought a reassignment with a new co-anchor. Instead, Andrews alleged, she was relegated to a series of undesirable assignments, including "the overnight shift--the same assignment [TWC] had given Ms. Andrews's predecessor after she complained about Stokes."

Andrews filed her arbitration claim shortly before her three-year contract expired in August 2006. According to recent press accounts, The Weather Channel's owner, Virginia-based Landmark Communications, has been accepting bids for the network, which it optimistically values at $5 billion. Suitors for the cable channel (and its popular web site) reportedly include a Who's Who of media giants, including CBS, NBC Universal, Time Warner, Comcast, and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. (14 pages)