Judge dismisses defamation case against WTMX owner

Former “Eric in the Morning” co-host Melissa McGurren claimed company exec defamed her in memo to staff about alleged abusive behavior by Eric Ferguson.

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WTMX disc jockey Eric Ferguson speaks to Kaneland Middle School students in 2005.

WTMX disc jockey Eric Ferguson speaks to Kaneland Middle School students in 2005.

Sun-Times file

A federal judge this week dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a former co-host of one of Chicago’s top morning drive radio shows over alleged harassment by star Eric Ferguson.

Melissa McGurren, who spent 22 years with WTMX-101.9-FM and co-hosted the “Eric in the Morning” with Ferguson, in 2020 filed suit against WTMX owner Hubbard Radio Chicago, claiming an email sent to her former coworkers implied she was lying about alleged abusive behavior by Ferguson.

Ferguson stepped down as host of the popular show in October, amid outcry over McGurren’s allegations and claims of sexual assault and workplace harassment made by other female employees of “The Mix.”

McGurren said she quit the station in 2020 after years of complaining about Ferguson’s on- and off-air behavior, claims she said were ignored by station executives who sought to protect the popular host.

Her lawsuit claims station vice president Jeff England defamed her when he sent a message to staff in 2020 stating the station had investigated her claims and did “not agree with [McGurren’s] characterization of events” — a statement that McGurren said implied she was a liar, and which she claimed impugned her integrity.

But the remarks in England’s note, which soon after appeared in the press, did not rise to the level of defamation under Illinois state law, according to an order issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman dismissing the case.

“England’s internal email is an informational communication to Plaintiff’s former coworkers and defendant’s current employees,” Guzman wrote. “It acknowledges the existence of plaintiff’s pending EEOC claim, does not discuss particular facts, and simply indicates that the station has conducted its own investigations and does not agree with Plaintiff’s characterization of events— a classic statement of opinion.”

“Eric in the Morning” assistant producer Cynthia DeNicolo— who also occasionally worked as a babysitter for Ferguson and his then-wife— also has sued the station, claiming Ferguson used his star power to coerce her into sex acts when she first began working for the station, and, for years after she began refusing his come-ons, taunted her in front of co-workers.

When he stepped down after 25 years at the station, Ferguson said in a statement that he was “energized to move forward and defend myself against claims made against me and the station.”

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