A former WTOP reporter has filed a $3 million lawsuit against the popular local radio station alleging that she was sexually harassed by a co-worker and that WTOP took no action after she reported the behavior.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court last month, ex-WTOP traffic reporter Joy Pivec was repeatedly sexually harassed by sports reporter Rob Woodfork. Pivec, who started working at the station in January 2017, stated that Woodfork harassed her between February and April. The harassment grew so severe that Pivec was no longer able to cope and resigned, the lawsuit says.
In the final two months of her employment, Pivec was assigned by her supervisor, Jim Battagliese, to “mobile training” with Woodfork, which required Pivec and Woodfork driving around together “for many hours” in a WTOP Jeep, the complaint states. But as soon as this training began, the lawsuit says, “Pivec’s hopes of a professional working relationship with Woodfork were shattered.”
During their training, Pivec “was subjected to a sexually hostile working environment, which included unwelcome touching, demeaning sexist comments, veiled threats to her employment if she did not acquiesce to his demands, and graphic and vulgar language and references to Woodfork’s anatomical features,” according to the complaint.
On the first day of Pivec’s training with Woodfork, he allegedly told her that he had a sexual “preference” for older, blonde, white women and asked her if she dated black men. He allegedly said, “Do you date black men? They have bigger dicks,” and “I know you have breast implants. I noticed five minutes after seeing you. You have big boobs and blonde hair and can walk into any bar you want and sleep with anyone you want.”
At one point, according to the lawsuit, Woodfork told Pivec, “I hope you know whatever is said in this jeep stays in this jeep. That’s how WTOP is run.”
The complaint calls Woodfork “an experienced WTOP reporter and friend of Battagliese.” Woodfork did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. (His office number is not listed on WTOP’s website.) A call to Battagliese’s office number went directly to voicemail and a message to his WTOP email account bounced back.
Toward the end of Pivec’s first day of training, according to the lawsuit, Woodfork told her he had something to do at his apartment in Takoma Park and asked her to drive him home from Landover before returning the WTOP Jeep to the station in Upper Northwest. The lawsuit says Pivec was uncomfortable with that request, believing that Woodfork was trying to coerce her into sexual relations at his home.
The lawsuit also says that Woodfork continued to make unwarranted and unwelcome sexual comments to Pivec during the next few days of training. After three days of training with Woodfork, Pivec allegedly told Battagliese she was not comfortable training with Woodfork anymore, but didn’t disclose the reason to Battagliese, as she knew the two men were close friends.
Following the alleged experiences with Woodfork, Pivec reported him to WTOP’s human resources department, but no action was ever taken, the lawsuit says. Woodfork’s “history of and proclivity for sexual harassment of female reporters was well known among WTOP employees,” according to the complaint.
Pivec was “forced to resign” because of the harassment and humiliation after no action was taken by WTOP following Pivec’s complaints to HR, the lawsuit states.
WTOP General Manager Joel Oxley did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment. Oxley and other managers at the station also did not respond to an email requesting comment. A woman who answered a general office number for WTOP said she could not assist with a request for comment.
Barbara B. Brown, a partner at Paul Hastings who represents WTOP, was not immediately available on Friday afternoon, an assistant said. Earlier this week, the case was transferred from D.C. Superior Court to the federal U.S. District Court for D.C., and it is currently pending before Judge Rudolph Contreras.
Pivec, who is represented by attorneys Philip B. Zipin and Norman G. Schneider, is seeking $3 million in punitive damages from WTOP for not taking any action against Woodfork and having prior knowledge that he was “overly touchy” with women in the newsroom, the lawsuit says. Schneider said Pivec was not immediately available to comment, but that “the lawsuit speaks for itself.”
Update, 7 p.m.: In a message sent yesterday to WTOP staff and obtained by City Paper, the station and its parent company denied that they acted wrongfully:
Hubbard Radio Washington, DC and WTOP-FM deny any wrongdoing or liability in this matter and will vigorously defend this meritless complaint. Our commitment to our employees, as it always has been, is to ensure that the workplace is free of any type of inappropriate or unprofessional behavior and language. Consistent with that commitment, and as required by law, WTOP acted immediately and appropriately in this case.