Phoenix TV sued over US sex claims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 April, 2014, 4:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 April, 2014, 4:54am

Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television faced fresh legal problems in the United States on Tuesday, as two employees and a job applicant launched a legal action over claims the company failed to act on sexual harassment by a former bureau chief.

It follows previous lawsuits by former employees and interns, all of whom were seeking damages over the actions of Liu Zhengzhu, a former Washington bureau chief and once head of US operations for Phoenix.

The latest lawsuit was filed on the same day New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law new legislation that gives unpaid interns the same right as paid employees to sue over allegations they were harassed or discriminated against by their employers.

The legislation, which was passed by the New York City Council last month and will take effect in June, was proposed after a court ruled last year that a former female intern of Phoenix who was allegedly sexually harassed by Liu could not sue the company because she was not being paid.

Separately, four female employees launched a legal action in a Washington court against Phoenix last year.

Attorneys for the three women in the latest suit accuse Phoenix of employing Liu as head of operations in the United States for more than a decade despite being aware of sexual harassment allegations.

They accuse Liu, previously a United Nations reporter with state broadcaster China Central Television, of subjecting the women to "unwanted touching and obscene comments" at the office.

Liu is alleged by the women to have "lured female employees and interns to his hotel room, under the pretence of work, where he attempted to have sex with them in exchange for career advancement".

Two of the women work as reporters at Phoenix's New York office. They accuse Liu of having repeatedly harassed them.

The third plaintiff had applied for a job with the company, but she claims that Liu refused to hire her after she rejected his advances.

"Liu claimed [his actions] were only part of a 'game' and 'transaction'," the women's attorneys said in a statement.

"Liu preyed on the most vulnerable young women - those beginning careers and without family in America," the lawyers said. "Victims feared speaking out as a result, and suffered severe anxiety and depression."

The initial case came to light in August 2012 after one of the women captured a sexual assault on tape, the lawyers say. More than 10 former or current employees wrote letters of support and agreed to serve as witnesses.

Liu was dismissed from the company in December 2012.

Asked about the case last year, Liu denied any wrongdoing and said he had retired from the company.

Launched in 1996 by businessman Liu Changle, Phoenix is one of the few non-state broadcasters allowed to air its programmes on the mainland.

Phoenix's Hong Kong spokeswoman offered no comment last night.