(CN) – A producer on “The Montel Williams Show” who was fired after suffering a brain aneurysm on the set can proceed with a $3 million lawsuit against CBS, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled. Network executives allegedly told Erin Primmer that they needed someone “who could handle the pressure.”
U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. ruled that Primmer had presented enough evidence bolstering her claim that CBS fired her over a perceived disability.
Primmer, 36, began working for the daytime talk show in August 2005. She collapsed on the set in March 2007, after suffering the aneurysm, and was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery.
A month later, she was cleared to return to work and discussed her aneurysm with Susan Henry, an executive producer on the show. Henry allegedly told Primmer that her contract wouldn’t be renewed, because they needed “someone at the top of their game” and “someone capable of handling pressure,” as the next season would be “worse.”
Season 17 was expected to be particularly stressful, because CBS was scrutinizing the show at the time. Those concerns weren’t unfounded; “The Montel Williams Show” was canceled after the season.
CBS insisted that it decided not to renew Primmer’s contract before the aneurysm. Williams testified at his deposition that he “began to feel disappointed” with her performance during season 15. Executive producers pointed to Primmer’s allegedly lackluster pitch for February sweeps, saying her ideas lacked detail and weren’t “up to par.”
Nonetheless, her contract was renewed for season 16 with a pay raise.
The network said it didn’t let her go earlier, because it couldn’t afford to buy out her contract and she was needed for sweeps.
Primmer argued that, other than the pitch meeting, she had never been told that her work was unsatisfactory or that her job was in jeopardy.
Judge Baer said the evidence seemed to back up this claim. “[T]he record in this case is completely devoid of any contemporaneous writings … that show any indication that any of Primmer’s direct supervisors was dissatisfied with her performance prior to her aneurysm,” Baer wrote.
He said Henry’s comments at the May 2007 meeting, “or what might better be characterized as an exit interview … certainly allows a reasonable jury to decide that the decision not to renew Primmer’s contract was motivated, at least in part, on her perceived disability.”
He rejected CBS’ motion for summary judgment.
Trial is set for November.
Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is a national spokesman for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a program that helps low-income patients apply for free or discounted prescription drugs. He also heads an MS foundation.
Primmer’s lawyer, E. Christopher Murray, blasted Williams for the firing to the New York Post, saying, “Coming from a guy who prides himself on helping people who are disabled … it’s a little hypocritical.”