Popular Chicago radio host Eric Ferguson allegedly coerced an assistant producer on his show into performing sexual favors, according to a lawsuit.
Cynthia DeNicolo accused Ferguson, who hosts WTMX-FM’s popular “Eric in the Morning” show, of coercing her to perform oral sex on him about twice a month between January and August of 2004, according to the suit, which was filed in Cook County in May.
DeNicolo is a former assistant producer on the show who screened callers, booked interviews and sometimes joined Ferguson on air.
“Ferguson used codewords to communicate his unwanted demands for oral sex. He would tell DeNicolo he ‘needed a backrub,’” the lawsuit states.
“This coerced sexual activity typically occurred after a company sponsored work event or after the workday in DeNicolo’s apartment,” according to the lawsuit.
Attempts to reach Ferguson were unsuccessful.
His attorney, Peter Donati, filed a motion to dismiss the suit last month in which he claimed it was “devoid of factual allegations” and intended to “smear” Ferguson’s reputation.
Ferguson “emphatically denies the existence of a sexual relationship with plaintiff as well as engaging in the other conduct alleged in the complaint,” according to the motion.
Until she was fired on May 1, 2020, “Ferguson continued to torment DeNicolo by continuing to ask for sexual favors” and by reminding her that he had power over her job, according to the suit.
DeNicolo, 43, alleges Ferguson was behind her firing, though cuts due to COVID-19 was the official reason she received, according to the suit.
DeNicolo isn’t alone in her claim, according to the suit.
In 2017, Ferguson told DeNicolo he feared another woman employed by WTMX (popularly known as The Mix) was preparing to make allegations of sexual harassment against him, according to the suit. Ferguson told DeNicolo “we need to circle the wagons” and “get our stories straight” and ”told her to stay silent and to deny any allegations by other women that Ferguson had engaged in inappropriate behavior.”
According to the suit, Hubbard Radio, owner of WTMX, knew by 2019 that Ferguson was a “serial sexual predator” but “decided to protect Ferguson to avoid losing the financial benefit his top-rated ‘Eric in the Morning’ show brought to the station.”
Though Hubbard Radio is not a named defendant in the suit, DeNicolo blamed the company for failing to act.
“The employer’s decision to try to keep secret Ferguson’s serial misconduct emboldened Ferguson, who by then appeared to believe he was invincible,” the suit states.
“Because he is his station’s most successful on-the-air personality, the Mix treats Ferguson as though he is a ‘sacred cow’ the station must never offend,” the suit states.
Jeff England, vice president and market manager for Hubbard Chicago, said the company had looked into the claims.
“Hubbard Radio learned of complaints from a former employee, Cynthia DeNicolo, related to the conduct of Eric Ferguson while they were coworkers at The Mix,” England said in an emailed statement. “We take concerns about our workplace culture and the experience of our employees very seriously, and with the full support of Hubbard Radio Chicago and Hubbard Broadcasting we took steps immediately to investigate. An internal investigation and an independent external investigation found no evidence to corroborate allegations of illegal workplace conduct.”
DeNicolo was hired in 2000 after interning at the show during college. She was hired as an assistant producer and stayed at the position for two decades.
“Ferguson intended that DeNicolo suffer low wages and stalled career advancement as her punishment for refusing to succumb to his demands to resume the unwelcome sexual relationship she terminated in 2004,” the suit states.
Ferguson began flirting with DeNicolo “almost immediately” after she joined the station, according to the suit. Despite this, she was able to “keep the relationship professional for a few years.”
Things changed when Ferguson insisted he drive her home from a company event in 2003 and he tried to kiss her while alone in his car, the suit alleges.
DeNicolo “brushed him off,” but following the thwarted kiss, Ferguson “made it clear he would not take ‘no’ for an answer,” according to the suit.
He also began telling DeNicolo, in front of co-workers and one-on-one, that “she was replaceable and had to ‘pay her dues,’” according to the suit.
Ferguson also pressured DeNicolo from 2003 to 2013 to nanny his children, as much as six days a week, knowing she could not refuse, which led her to become known around The Mix as “Eric’s Babysitter,” according to the suit.
“Being forced to spend time with Ferguson’s wife added to the stress and humiliation,” the suit states.
The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
In 2017, Ferguson’s longtime co-host, Kathy Hart, exited the role after an unexplained absence from the show. Her departure came a year after both hosts were inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.