The Boston Globe filed a lawsuit Friday against Hilary Sargent, a former Boston.com editor, in an attempt to compel her to reveal more information about a text exchange that she said shows she was harassed by the Globe’s editor, Brian McGrory.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, says that Sargent’s refusal to turn over the date of the allegedly inappropriate text message has made it impossible to determine whether she was an employee of the Globe at the time it was sent, as she has suggested.
The Globe says her failure to cooperate with the investigation violates the terms of her 2016 separation agreement from the organization, which required her to cooperate with the Globe in any investigation arising from her employment.
“Our filing today seeks Ms. Sargent’s cooperation in collecting information related to her specific claims — nothing more, and nothing less,” Jane Bowman, the Globe’s vice president of marketing and strategic partnerships, said in a statement Friday. “We do so in an attempt to hear more, not less, from Ms. Sargent.”
Sargent’s lawyer, William T. Kennedy, said that his client has been trying to contact upper management at the Globe for several months to discuss her concerns about harassment at the Globe and has been ignored. He denied that Sargent has been uncooperative in the investigation, but acknowledged in a subsequent e-mail that the texts at the center of the Globe’s suit have not been turned over to the Globe or its lawyers.
“The suggestion that the Globe’s requests for her cooperation have been ignored is false,” Kennedy said. “Given the Globe’s decision to file suit against our client, Ms. Sargent will have no further comment at this time.”
The lawsuit was filed five days after Sargent posted a text exchange on Twitter in which one of the parties asks the other, “What do you generally wear when you write?” She attributed the question to McGrory. The screenshot does not identify the parties or indicate the date of the exchange.
Sargent wrote on Twitter of the text exchange: “If you’ve ever been sent a sext-type text from someone who was powerful enough that you felt you couldn’t do anything (other than panic/shake your head/cry), you’re not alone. The more we tweet these, the less they’ll send them.”
In a note to staff late Wednesday, McGrory said he did not recall the exchange, but has told the Globe’s owners that they should try to retrieve the texts by whatever means possible. He said he and Sargent had dated many years ago, when, he said, they did not work together. “I have never harassed Hilary Sargent or any other women at the Globe or anywhere else — ever,” he wrote.
He said that after Sargent left the organization, “we would sometimes exchange text messages that included the kind of personal banter of two people very familiar with each other. I regret that very much for reasons that go far beyond the Globe.”
McGrory also highlighted his record of hiring and promoting women in the newsroom, and in seeking equal pay for women.
In her statement Friday, Bowman wrote, “It is a top priority of the leadership here at the Globe to create a safe, welcoming, and comfortable working environment for all employees. This is a responsibility we take very seriously.”
Bowman added that from “the time that Ms. Sargent tweeted about this exchange, we have on multiple occasions reached out to her. She has been unwilling to provide further relevant information to date.”
Bowman said McGrory has turned over his phone and cooperated with the company’s investigation, but “multiple attempts to retrieve the exchange from his phone have proved unsuccessful.”
The conversation appears to have taken place on Apple’s iMessage platform rather than standard text messaging. Cellphone carriers do not have access to the content of iMessages.
Responding to the assertion by Sargent’s lawyer that his client has been cooperating, Bowman said in a statement: “Had Ms. Sargent responded to our request for information, we would not have had to file suit.”
The Globe reported Wednesday that Sargent had received a draft of the threatened litigation before it was filed. On Thursday, Sargent posted a message on Twitter in response.
“With the @BostonGlobe threatening a lawsuit, I will only say this,” she wrote. “This isn’t about one text. This isn’t about just him. And this isn’t about just me. I’m horrified that the newspaper that purports to shine a ‘Spotlight’ is doing everything in their power to do just the opposite.”
Sargent declined to comment further on Friday. McGrory also declined to comment. McGrory’s personal lawyer, Martin Murphy, has also sent a letter to Sargent’s lawyer accusing Sargent of making “false and defamatory statements” against McGrory.
In an e-mail Wednesday, Murphy said: “Brian McGrory has no interest whatsoever in fighting with Hilary Sargent, in court or anywhere else. He does take serious issue with the suggestion that he sexually harassed her, and we thought it was important to communicate that to her lawyer, directly and explicitly.”
The Globe’s lawsuit says the company has been unable to respond to media coverage of Sargent’s accusations because she has blocked the Globe’s investigation of her claims, in violation of her separation agreement.
As a result, the lawsuit says, Sargent has “caused the Globe immediate and irreparable harm by making public (and, as the Globe has reason to believe, false) accusations that she received inappropriate texts from a Globe employee during her time at the Globe.”
A hearing on the Globe’s request for a preliminary injunction to compel Sargent to abide by her severance agreement has been scheduled for June 7.
While the draft lawsuit sent to Sargent earlier this week included a request for compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees, those items were crossed out by hand in the version filed Friday.
Sargent was a writer and editor at the Globe-owned website Boston.com from 2014 to 2016. From 1998 to 1999, Sargent worked at the Globe as an editorial assistant in business, metro, and the State House, according to the Globe’s December 2013 announcement that she had been hired as a writer at Boston.com.
McGrory has recused himself from overseeing the Globe’s coverage of Sargent’s allegations against him.
Read the Globe’s suit below:
@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.Travis Andersen can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Mark Arsenault of the Globe staff contributed to this report.