Makeup Artist Files Harassment Suit Against ESPN

Thursday, June 28th 2007, 5:22 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A woman who worked on the set of the ESPN talk show ``Cold Pizza'' is suing the sports network, saying she was fired after complaining about sexual harassment by the show's host and a regular panelist.

In the suit, makeup artist Rita Ragone said she was pinched and fondled by sports commentator Woody Paige and subjected to crude sexual comments by ESPN host Jay Crawford at the show's studio in Manhattan.

Ragone said Paige once grabbed her backside so forcefully, she was ``propelled forward and into the air.''

``It is not true,'' Paige, a columnist with The Denver Post, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. He declined further comment.

ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said the allegations were false. He declined to discuss the specific charges in the suit, which also named Paige and Crawford as defendants.

Soltys said Crawford was upset by the accusations and read a statement in which the TV host said he ``vehemently'' denied the allegations and looked forward to answering them in court.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court, claims the harassment began almost immediately after Ragone was hired by a video production company in 2005 to do hair and makeup on the ``Cold Pizza'' set.

Ragone said Paige, repeatedly made vulgar remarks about her appearance. Crawford, she said, made unwanted sexual advances, told her she only got the job because of her looks and contributed to a locker-room atmosphere by making disparaging remarks about another hair stylist.

Ragone said the situation was exacerbated by a few female employees who didn't seem to mind the atmosphere, including a stylist who gave the men lap dances.

``Ms. Ragone had never worked in such a vulgar or obscene environment,'' her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

Ragone said she raised complaints with managers at ESPN and her employer, Atlantic Video, only to be told to keep quiet. Ragone said a manager at Atlantic Video fired her last year after she refused to let the complaints drop.

Atlantic Video President Ed Milligan said the company, which also is being sued, would defend itself vigorously.

``This lawsuit is without merit,'' he said in a statement read by a publicist.

ESPN retooled and renamed ``Cold Pizza'' in May, replacing it with ``First Take,'' a similar program also co-hosted by Crawford.

Last October, baseball analyst Harold Reynolds also sued ESPN, contending he was wrongly fired after a female intern complained about what he called a ``brief and innocuous'' hug.