Disney held unsuccessful mediation talks with alleged sexual-assault victims

Claims surfaced in lawsuit last week against former top producer Michael Corn, who denies the allegations; ABC is also a defendant

Walt Disney Co. and its ABC unit held unsuccessful mediation talks in June with the two women who have alleged they were sexually assaulted by a former ABC News executive, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The claims against the executive, former "Good Morning America" producer Michael Corn, surfaced last week in a lawsuit filed by one of the women, ABC News producer Kirstyn Crawford. Mr. Corn has denied wrongdoing and called the allegations fabrications. 

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The suit also named ABC as a defendant, alleging that the network had received complaints about Mr. Corn's conduct from several women over roughly a decade but failed to take disciplinary action. 

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The mediation talks came after Disney concluded an investigation into the women's allegations against Mr. Corn, people close to the company and the alleged victims said.

Mr. Corn was pushed out by ABC News in April, the people said. When Mr. Corn left the company after a nearly two-decade tenure, neither he nor ABC gave a reason for his departure.

An attorney for Mr. Corn didn't respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

ABC News said in a statement last week that it "disputes the claims made against it and will address this matter in court."

Former "Good Morning America" producer Michael Corn. (Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images / Getty Images)

In the lawsuit, filed Aug. 25 in New York state court, Ms. Crawford accused Mr. Corn of sexually assaulting her on a reporting trip in 2015 in Los Angeles. The incidents took place in an Uber ride after a party and later at their hotel, she alleged.

The suit also alleges that former ABC News producer Jill McClain was sexually assaulted by Mr. Corn when the two worked at ABC's "World News Tonight" roughly a decade ago. Ms. McClain isn't a plaintiff in the suit but is supporting Ms. Crawford's case, according to the complaint. Ms. McClain left ABC News in 2013. 

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Mr. Corn has cited collegial emails from Ms. Crawford, sent the day after the alleged incident, and friendly interactions with Ms. McClain, as proof that he didn't assault either woman. "These are not the words and actions of a woman who had been assaulted," Mr. Corn said in the statement in reference to both women.

The suit alleged that ABC officials learned of Ms. Crawford's allegations in 2017 but failed to investigate the matter at the time. According to the suit, "Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos was told by a third party about the alleged incident and told ABC officials, including Tanya Menton, an ABC lawyer who handles litigation and employee relations.

An investigation was launched into Mr. Corn's conduct in February 2021 after Ms. Crawford and Ms. McClain filed formal complaints to the company, the suit said.

FMR. TOP PRODUCER OF ABC’S ‘GOOD MORNING AMERICA’ ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT IN LAWSUIT

Ms. Menton didn't respond to requests for comment. Mr. Stephanopoulos said the suit is accurate regarding his actions.

ABC News President Kim Godwin, who started weeks after Mr. Corn's departure, told staff on a conference call last Thursday that she has asked for an independent investigation into how the network handled the allegations against Mr. Corn.

"We can't have us investigating us. We need an independent person," Ms. Godwin said, according to a recording of the call. "The process has to be independent."

Some ABC News insiders were cheered by her remarks, but her superiors at ABC and Disney were caught off-guard by her comments, people familiar with the situation said. Disney hasn't commented on whether it would pursue such an investigation.

Ms. Godwin didn't respond to a request for comment.