LOS ANGELES (CN) - TV's "Dr. Phil" McGraw falsely imprisoned and berated 300 workers behind locked and guarded doors in a tirade about a leak to the press, and CBS let its "cash cow" do it, a whistleblower claims in court.
Leah Rothman says McGraw read from cue cards during his tirade, "making it appear like Dr. Phil had scripted the entire event," and that when she complained to a vice president of human resources, the VP told her CBS let McGraw get away with it "because he got joy out of the process and in scaring his employees."
Rothman claims in superior court that she was one of about 300 people working for the "Dr. Phil Show" who were summoned to a March 11, 2015 meeting in a room with McGraw, who ordered the doors locked and guarded while he yelled and berated them over a story leak.
The leaked story involved an interview with Nick Gordon, the former boyfriend of Bobbi Kristina Brown, the daughter of singers Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, who died after years of drug abuse.
McGraw turned the interview into a drug addiction intervention, resulting in Gordon entering rehab. A worker leaked the story to the press and was fired after admitting it, according to a May 1, 2015 story in the Hollywood Reporter.
McGraw became famous as a regular guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show and as Winfrey's life coach, a task he assumed in 1998. He has a doctorate in psychology and started the Dr. Phil Show in 2002.
Rothman says she was called into work on her day off for the mandatory meeting in a room without enough seating for the 300 workers, forcing her and others to stand as McGraw entered the room and demanded two security guards lock the doors.
She says McGraw demanded the workers turn off their phones, posted two guards at the only exit, and "slamming items down," berated and threatened the workers, telling them that whoever leaked the story broke federal law. "Specifically, he stated, 'If you fuck with me, I'll fuck with you,' continuously using profanity toward the employees throughout the meeting," Rothman says in the Jan. 20 lawsuit.
"Dr. Phil intentionally chose to threaten and scare his employees, including plaintiff, despite the fact it was already known who the person that leaked the information was," Rothman says.
She says the locked and guarded doors, the threats and outbursts in a confined space with cell phones off caused her emotional distress and constitutes false imprisonment under California law.
"The defendants knew of Dr. Phil's inappropriate illegal conduct, knew that employees like plaintiff had complained about it and needed protection, yet did nothing to make her or other employees feel safe in the workplace or prevent or correct the illegal activity," Rothman says.
Also named as defendants are Peteski Productions, CBS Studios, Entertainment Partners and EPSG Talent Services.
She says an executive in charge of production of the Dr. Phil Show told her they "allowed Dr. Phil to continue his interrogation of the employees ... because he got joy out of the process and in scaring his employees."
The complaint continues: "The executive confirmed with plaintiff that the meeting initiated by Dr. Phil on March 11, 2015, was not a 'fact-finding mission,' but rather a planned event meant to scare and intimidate the employees - something Dr. Phil was proud of himself for doing."
Rothman says she met a week later with a senior vice president of human resources to complain, particularly about the locked doors, and the VP told her "that she also felt that Dr. Phil's actions were most likely illegal, promising that she 'will have to look into it.'"
The CBS VP told her "that the Dr. Phil Show had been a problem for CBS since the beginning of it being on the air," Rothman says. However, she says, "Defendants continued to convey the message that Dr. Phil was their cash cow and that they needed him and his show on the CBS network."
The ordeal made her lose sleep and made her feel unsafe in the workplace, she says.
"Defendants Peteski, CBS, Entertainment Partners, EPSG and Dr. Phil knew of the false imprisonment and egregious activity by Dr. Phil and failed to investigate and take any action against defendant Dr. Phil, thereby ratifying his actions," Rothman says.
She says the stress and anguish forced her to leave the show after 10 seasons, due to the "humiliation, mental anguish and physical and emotional distress" and "the unlawful acts and practices of defendants, [which] were intentional and willful and caused great physical and emotional harm."
She seeks punitive damages for false imprisonment, whistleblower retaliation, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A spokesman for the Dr. Phil Show said the company had no comment.
Rothman's attorney, Matthew J. Matern of Manhattan Beach, was not available by telephone Wednesday night.
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