A veteran female producer of E!’s red-carpet programming claims she was fired for allowing a prerecorded interview at the 2018 Golden Globes to make it to air that was critical of the network for allegedly underpaying former E! News co-host Catt Sadler.
Aileen Gram-Moreno filed a complaint on Thursday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The New York Times reported, alleging she was unfairly let go by E! after 12 years of working with them and later replaced by a man who was given a higher title.
E! tells PEOPLE that Gram-Moreno was a freelancer who was “asked not to return” due to “performance issues.”
“For the past decade Aileen Gram Moreno was a freelancer who worked an average of 20 days per year solely for our red carpet coverage,” a representative for E! tells PEOPLE in a statement. “After the Golden Globes she was asked not to return due to job performance issues. Following an attempt to force E! to pay for her silence Ms. Moreno is now spreading misleading and inaccurate information.”
However, Gram-Moreno’s lawyer Katherine Atkinson tells PEOPLE that the network was being “callous” by letting Gram-Moreno go.
“The award shows have, for some time, not only served as an opportunity to celebrate the arts, but also as a platform for influential Americans to express themselves of issues on political or societal import,” Atkinson tells PEOPLE in a statement. “For E! to censor, or dramatically limit, the amount of discussion by women on the issue of equal pay is deeply disappointing, especially during this important moment in history. Firing a woman for failing to perform her assigned task of censoring other women’s speech, displays a level of callousness and recklessness that is unusual.”
E! has been in the spotlight since December when Sadler, 43, said she decided to quit the network after learning that her male co-host of 12 years James Kennedy was earning “double” her salary. (E! maintains it “compensates employees fairly and appropriately.”)
Trouble for Gram-Moreno began on the Golden Globes red carpet, she claims, when — among a sea of impassioned statements about the Time’s Up movement — Will & Grace star Debra Messing called out E! for allegedly not paying Sadler equally.
Gram-Moreno says she was then told to screen for mentions of Sadler in any interviews, which were being taped live and aired moments later to keep with the flow of the show going while allowing producers to edit out criticism, Variety reported. But the oversized workload made it impossible to screen all the interviews.
Echoing one another, Longoria and Witherspoon, 41, said: “We stand with you Catt.”
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Gram-Moreno tells The Times that she was “devastated” about the mistake and apologized to her executive producer about the mistake, who replied in texts reviewed by the paper that it probably could not have been avoided. (Indeed, other interviews where people mentioned Sadler were also included in the broadcast and remain on E! News’ website.)
Five days later, Gram-Moreno claims an executive producer called her and fired her from all upcoming shows she had been previously booked (the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Grammys, and the Oscars). Gram-Moreno told the Times that the producer told her she was let go “‘because you let the Catt mention get on air.’ ”
The network also denied her pay for the three cancelled jobs, she claimed, and have not contacted her since for any non-red-carpet assignments despite saying they would.
E! Entertainment president Adam Stotsky also spoke to The Times, adding that Gram-Moreno had a “pattern of poor performance.” He also denied the network attempted to censor any interviews, noting that the aforementioned interviews with Messing, Longoria, and Witherspoon as well as interviews with Sarah Jessica Parker and Natalie Portman that alluded to or mentioned Sadler were all on the network’s website.
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But Atkinson denies E!’s claims. “In the 12 years Aileen has been working on red carpet shows for E! they never once raised a performance issue,” she told Buzzfeed News. “That is a convenient excuse for covering up attempts to silence women speaking out. Employers often attack women speaking out about discrimination — so I am disappointed in E! but not surprised.”“E! can’t have it both ways,” Atkinson added to Variety. “They support their position that they were not censoring references to Catt Sadler by pointing to the Eva Longoria interview. But they fired my client for failing to censor that very interview. If you attempt to censor, and then fire the person for not catching the speech you intended to censor for letting it go through, you can’t then claim that you aren’t so bad after all because you ‘let’ it air. Their argument defies logic.”
Gram-Moreno’s complaint comes as E! red-carpet anchor Ryan Seacrest faces sexual harassment allegations from a personal stylist who says he grabbed her crotch while only his underwear and forcefully threw her onto a bed, where he rubbed his erection on her. He has denied all claims and an E! representative told PEOPLE an investigation found the stylist’s claims “completely baseless.” Seacrest will anchor Sunday’s Academy Awards red-carpet telecast.