Seven past or current female staffers of CBS News' late-night "Nightwatch" are suing CBS Inc. for a total of $14 million, alleging that they faced sexual harassment, discrimination and hostility while working for the Washington-based program.
CBS News had no comment on the suit because it hadn't yet been served with court papers, "and we can't comment on anything we haven't seen," a spokeswoman in New York said Friday.
The suit was filed Thursday in District of Columbia Superior Court. It seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for each of the women, who allege violations of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
All are production staffers. Their petition complains that CBS, "through its agents and servants, created and maintained a working environment in its 'Nightwatch' program that was offensive and hostile to women employees, including the plaintiffs."
Their suit also says that CBS management had been notified "on a number of occasions of the sexual harassment by John Huddy and other of its agents and servants against the plaintiffs."
Huddy, who helped create "Nightwatch" in 1981, had been its executive producer for two years until June, when he resigned to become a film production consultant in Hollywood. Although named in the suit, he is not a defendant in it.
Contacted by telephone Friday, Huddy declined to comment on the suit. "No, it would be inappropriate for me to say anything at this time," he said.
The suit also contends that several of the plaintiffs were dismissed in August on "pretextual grounds" after "speaking out against sexual discrimination and harassment."
Those filing the suit are Susan Balsam, the current unit manager of "Nightwatch"; Marylynn Vosburgh, a personal secretary; Rachel Ray and Anita Lemonis, former broadcast associates; Laura J. Schwartz, an assistant producer; S. Beth Homan, a former assistant producer, and Amy Gutman, a former associate producer.
"Nightwatch," now temporarily anchored on a rotating basis by Fred Graham and Terence Smith, is a two-hour program of news and interviews currently aired on weeknights from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., then repeated from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Originally created to meet competition posed by Cable News Network and such late-night programs as the now-defunct "NBC News Overnight," "Nightwatch" began as a four-hour program of news and live and taped interviews.
It has been hard hit by personnel cutbacks that occurred throughout CBS in the wake of what the company called lean economic times caused by flat advertising revenue and CBS' costly victory last year over a hostile takeover bid by cable-TV entrepreneur Ted Turner.
CBS News has lost a total of 218 jobs in the last two years, with 144 persons dismissed and the other jobs eliminated either by attrition or by not filling vacancies.
"Nightwatch" originally had a staff of more than 100 persons. It now has only 21, according to the network.