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Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Weather Channel’s $5 billion dollar sexual blunder

Not long after New Year’s day of this year, The Weather Channel started shopping itself around to the highest bidder. It was discussed that the combined properties of Weather.com and The Weather Channel could bring in as much as $5 billion in sales. The The Weather Channle and Weather.comNew York Times broke the story revealing that the sale was imminent, which you can read about here. As of today, May 8th, 2008, the Weather.com website holds the spot of the 22nd most visited website in the United States and 102nd most visited website in the world, according to Alexa.com which you can view here.

Where exactly does this sky high price come from for these weather related properties? The Weather Channel is rare in the cable landscape where it still remains a privately held cable channel. In addition to still being private, The Weather Channel has seen success in offering breaking weather news, such as updates on hurricanes and content covering climate change. In addition, major websites like Yahoo, MySpace and AOL.com use Weather.com for weather updates. With companies like News Corporation, Comcast, NBC and General Electric interested in making a deal to purchase this heavyweight what could go wrong?

Hillary Andrews and Bob Stokes on The Weather ChannelAs you will find from the court documents provided below, a long history of events is creating trouble for a fire-sale that could number in the billions. In the fall of 2003, Hillary Andrews was hired as a co-host to Bob Stokes for the prime-time weekend show on The Weather Channel. Ms. Andrews was brought on as a replacement for a previous co-host that complained of hostile and abusive conduct. The previous co-host was pushed off to a position at TWC termed as a “floater” position and late night work after reaching a breaking point with Stokes when he struck her on the arm. The previous anchor came under greater scrutiny from TWC while in the new “floater” position and left soon after.

In her new prime-time anchor position, Ms. Andrews endured the same conduct, which reportedly became worse than the previous anchor experienced. It was stated in the court documents that Bob Stokes had become emboldened by The Weather Channel management and human resources due to never receiving much discipline for his previous actions. It was also stated in court documents that Stokes had observed that The Weather Channel prized him for his high ratings, shielded him from complaints from those whom he harassed, and retaliated against those who dared complain. This seemed to create a worse situation for Hillary Andrews the new co-host.

The extent of the harassment of Ms. Andrews was reportedly worse, “because Stokes was sexually attracted to her and romantically obsessed with her.” The bizarre relationship started out slow with comments from Stokes about his attraction, questions of private Hillary Stokes Weather Channelrelationships and repeated attempts to get Ms. Andrews to go out on with him. The harassment became more heated when Stokes resorted to crude sexual remarks like, “Will you lick my swizzle stick?” Physical harassment followed with Stokes invading Ms. Andrew’s personal space, following her into the dressing room and leering at her chest.

A large number of statements that Stokes made were revealed in the following court documents you can read below. When Ms. Andrews became more blunt and hostile to Mr. Stoke’s attempts, the relationship turned into a sour retaliatory battle. Mr. Stokes was said to have interfered with and sabotaged Ms. Andrews on-air performance. Ms. Andrews found it hard to complain about Stoke’s behavior because she knew what happened to the previous anchor when the complaints reached an intolerable level. Managers at The Weather Channel often thanked Ms. Andrews for “working with Bob, “getting along with Bob,” and “putting up with Bob.”

Once word leaked out from people within the company that Ms. Andrew’s couldn’t tolerate Bob Stoke’s actions anymore, Ms. Andrew’s was told her three-year contract would not be renewed. While waiting for the contract to expire, The Weather Channel moved her from her prime time assignment to a series of undesirable shifts and assignments. The new jobs Ms. Andrew’s was graced with were the same jobs the previous anchor had before she resigned. It was formally announced to Ms. Andrews that her contract would not be renewed after her contract expired.

Hillary Andrews and Bob Stokes on The Weather ChannelShortly before Hillary Andrew’s contract expired she filed a demand for arbitration according to her contract with The Weather Channel. The main complaint of the arbitration was that Ms. Andrews felt TWC allowed her to be sexually harassed by Bob Stokes. On January 31st, 2008 the arbitrator issued an award of an undisclosed amount to Ms. Andrews for the harassment she endured for three years. The hope by management at TWC seemed to be that this would be the end to this whole nightmare of co-anchor harassment issues getting out of control. The Weather Channel is now trying to keep the 17 page arbitration under wraps while the bidding process for it’s billion dollar sale is underway. Unfortunately for TWC, news and documents have crept around the Internet and more people are learning of The Weather Channel’s own tropical depression that seems to be building into a hurricane.

What do you think? Do you think Hillary Andrews should drop the case now that she has received an arbitration reward? Do you feel this case is representative of the current environment many women have to deal with every day? Tell us how you feel about this case and about your own work experiences. Sexual harassment in the workplace seems to be brewing into quite a storm.
Original here

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