A Chicago lawyer is suing a group of Fox News companies and one of its reporters, claiming he got booted from his county job after a piece accusing him of drawing on two public pensions aired earlier this year.
Frank Gardner, a former attorney with the Cook County Department of Human Rights and Ethics, filed suit Oct. 16 in the Cook County Circuit Court against Fox Television Stations Inc., Fox News Channel, Fox News Network LLC, Fox Television Holdings Inc. and Dane Placko, a reporter with Fox 32 Chicago.
At issue in the suit is a Feb. 20 broadcast of story in which Placko said Gardner “is a retired lawyer and board member at the Water Reclamation District from which he draws two pensions totaling $158,000 a year.”
Gardner asserts the statement is false and was made at the end of a broadcast that mentioned his wife and son were both running for election to reclamation district. After the defendants insinuated his wife’s use of her maiden name in the race was deceptive, Gardner asserts they falsely accused him of collecting a pair of public pensions.
“The claim that Gardner drew from two public pensions was highly offensive to a reasonable person, particularly in this political climate where the issue of public pensions, and their effect on municipal and state budgets, has become so toxic," the suit states. "Placko was essentially telling his viewers that Gardner and his family are feeding on the public trough in a manner that is both dishonest and corrupt."
On Feb. 26, Placko, according to the suit, showed up at Gardner's work place with a camera crew, demanding to speak with him about his pensions. Gardner alleges Placko’s actions caused a disruption and made it difficult for him to work.
Gardner contends the reporter's visit to his office didn't result in follow up broadcast and was done with the intent purpose of causing him emotional distress.
As a result of the defendants’ broadcast, Gardner claims the head of his then-county department confronted him on March 14 “while holding a copy of the broadcast” and asked “questions regarding the video.”
“Mere days later, on March 18, Gardner was given notice of termination from his employment at the Cook County Commission on Human Rights,” the suit states. “The termination was due to the statements made and/or the conduct by agents of Fox Chicago, including Dane Placko.”
Gardner's complaint includes counts against the defendants alleging defamation per se, defamation per quod, false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress and tortious interference with a contract.
He is seeking $50,000 in damages on each of the five counts and is being represented by Chicago attorney Lawrence Rosen.
(Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an error. It previously stated the suit was filed Monday Oct. 20, but it was actually filed Oct. 16.)