US-based workers have filed a lawsuit against Hong Kong-based broadcaster Phoenix television, alleging years of harassment including attempted rape by its bureau chief against women employees, lawyers said on Thursday.
Four former or current employees are seeking damages from Phoenix, one of the few non-official broadcasters allowed to air in mainland China. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp holds a minority stake in Phoenix.
The former workers alleged that Liu Zhengzhu, who was Phoenix’s bureau chief until late last year, over eight years regularly tried to lure women into sex at work functions or hotels in Washington and New York.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Washington, said Liu “intentionally preyed on the most vulnerable employees” and boasted of his connections at Phoenix’s Hong Kong headquarters.
“In all cases, the message - which Mr Liu made explicit at times - was clear: to advance in one’s career at Phoenix, the female employee, intern or applicant had to submit to Mr. Liu’s unwanted sexual advances,” it said.
“When they were not receptive to Mr. Liu’s behaviour, Mr Liu retaliated against them by unfairly criticising them, subjecting them to harsh work conditions, denying them job opportunities, and firing them,” it said.
In incidents listed in the lawsuit, Liu was accused of assaulting an employee inside Phoenix’s Washington office and of going to a female employee’s home in an attempt to rape her.
Parent company Phoenix New Media did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Total damages could top $2 million in light of the number of employees allegedly affected and charges that the company did not prevent misconduct, said Lynne Bernabei, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit said Phoenix’s management was unreceptive to concerns and kept Liu in his position despite complaints.
One plaintiff said Liu forced the employee’s wife into his room at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel and fondled her against her will.
The employee said when he complained to a Phoenix executive about Liu, he was told he “would have to protect his wife himself.”
The plaintiffs, none of whom are US citizens, are seeking damages, including for humiliation, through a jury trial.