PHOENIX (CN) – A CBS affiliate defamed a physician and the hospice he manages by broadcasting unsubstantiated sexual harassment claims from three former employees, the doctor claims in Maricopa County Court.
Khalid Shirif says KPHO-TV, a Meredith-operated CBS affiliate, falsely reported last year that its investigative reporter conducted an “investigation had been so thorough and diligent as to result in a six-inch stack of documents that were incriminating and evidence of wrongdoing by Dr. Shirif.”
The Mesa-based physician says the allegations were made in connection to his status as medical director of Creative Health Care Services dba Sunrise Health & Hospice.
Sunrise received three Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims of sexual harassment against Shirif in 2009 from employees Paula Winsor, Susan Brand and Diane Guzman, according to the complaint. Shirif, a Mesa, Ariz.-based physician, says he also received a letter demanding $7.5 million on the women’s behalf.
The allegations against Shirif were “not expected, as Sunrise has an open-door policy and none of the individuals had brought such claims to management’s attention,” the complaint claims.
Shirif insists that all three women voluntarily resigned from their positions after talking to a lawyer.
Brand and Guzman filed a police report against Shirif with the Mesa Police Department in 2009, but the police found no probable cause to pursue the women’s claims of sexual harassment and assault, according to the lawsuit.
Shirif alleges that when he and Sunrise “refused to pay off Brand, Winsor and Guzman, these woman went to the media.”
KPHO’s report that “Guzman, Brand and Winsor had been ‘demoted or fired’ once they complained about the alleged sexual harassment, were false, misleading, created false impressions and implications and/or omitted critical facts concerning Dr. Shirif and Sunrise because … they implied and suggested, and were reasonably understood by persons who heard it to be a fact, that these women had been demoted or fired by Dr. Shirif and/or Sunrise because of their complaints,” according to the complaint.
Shirif says the news story falsely conveyed “the general implication that Dr. Shirif and Sunrise have engaged in criminal, unethical and/or illegal conduct, that Dr. Shirif had been censured and/or disciplined by the [Arizona Medical Board] for such conduct and that Dr. Shirif has been guilty of such conduct and has been censured and/or disciplined because of such conduct over the course of the past 20 years.”
Moreover, the journalist failed to report that one of the documents “in her possession and/or in the six-inch stack or was readily available to defendant was the AMB dismissal order that had dismissed the complaint made by Brand against Dr. Shirif,” the lawsuit claims.
Sunrise says it interviewed other employees who these employees claimed had witnessed the alleged sexual harassment and “not a single one of these witnesses would or could corroborate the accusations of Brand, Winsor and/or Guzman.”
KPHO also broadcast two more similar false news stories about Shirif in October 2010 and January 2011, including the false information that five women testified in a case that led to Shirif’s conviction in Minnesota of indecent exposure, according to the complaint. Shirif says he pleaded “guilty to the indecent exposure charge because he was suffering from seizures as the result of an automobile accident and to avoid further embarrassment.” None of the women testified under oath against him, he adds.
Shirif and Sunrise seek an injunction against Meredith, an admission that its three broadcasts were false, and general, special and punitive damages. They are represented by Kraig Marton of Jaburg & Wilk.