You knew the backlash was coming.
With “Jeopardy!” executive producer Mike Richards emerging as the apparent frontrunner to replace the late Alex Trebek as host of the long-running quiz show, three lawsuits alleging discrimination and gender-based harassment when he was at “The Price Is Right” are back in the spotlight.
For the record:
2:23 p.m. Aug. 6, 2021An earlier version of this story said Mike Richards allegedly barged into Lanisha Cole’s dressing room. Cole accused producer Adam Sandler of coming into the room without permission.
Rumors that Richards was in advanced talks to become the permanent “Jeopardy!” host arose this week as competition from higher-profile names including Mayim Bialik, fan fave LeVar Burton and others faded. Discussions as to who will host permanently are said to be ongoing.
Renewed scrutiny of the 46-year-old producer’s legal entanglements comes despite his being dismissed as a defendant in one of the suits. The other two were settled out of court. All were filed by models who worked on the TV show “The Price Is Right,” where Richards was co-executive producer and then exec producer from 2008 to 2018, before shifting to “Jeopardy!” The lawsuits were filed between 2008 and 2011.
A “Jeopardy!” representative declined to comment Friday on behalf of the show and Richards.
The actions were filed against multiple defendants, including fellow “Price Is Right” producer Adam Sandler and production company Fremantle Media, now known simply as Fremantle. (Sandler is no relation to the “Happy Gilmore” actor who shares his name.)
According to the Hollywood Reporter, in 2010 model Shane Stirling sued producers for wrongful termination, alleging that she was improperly let go in 2008 after she returned from pregnancy leave. That case was dismissed in 2012 after Stirling had trouble bringing sufficient evidence to prove her claims and the judge decided that the statute of limitations had run out.
Also in 2010, model Brandi Cochran sued for wrongful termination, alleging that she got less work after telling producers she was pregnant with twins. She said she hadn’t wanted to reveal her pregnancy because she was afraid she’d be fired. One of her twins died in miscarriage while the other was born three months premature and had health issues. Cochran said producers sent her mixed signals about whether she could return to work; then she found out she’d been fired.
A jury initially awarded Cochran more than $8 million, but the judge tossed that out and ordered a new trial after deciding the jury had been improperly instructed. The parties reached an out-of-court settlement in 2016.
Finally, Lanisha Cole sued in 2011, alleging wrongful constructive termination, retaliation, sexual harassment and more. Cole said in her court filing that in 2009, six years into her stint on the show, Richards began treating her differently than the other models and refused to speak with her directly, causing her “great uncertainty” about her performance. She linked this change to Richards starting a personal relationship with fellow “Price” model Amber Lancaster in early 2009, according to the lawsuit.
Cole also alleged that Sandler barged into a dressing room in September 2010 while she was clad only in a thong and berated her for not wearing a microphone on set — something she said was not unusual among the show’s models due to costume-change logistics.
She was told soon after that she couldn’t work for a full week because she had a family conflict one day that week, the lawsuit said, with producers citing policies that hadn’t existed previously. The model felt she had no choice but to quit, the filing said.
Along the way, Richards was dismissed as a defendant, and the case was settled out of court in 2013.
Finding a replacement for Trebek has been one of television’s most-watched decisions ever since the show’s longtime host died of pancreatic cancer in November 2020.
“The host of ‘Jeopardy!’ is one of the leading representatives of broadcast television,” Ted Harbert, a longtime TV executive at ABC and NBC, told the Los Angeles Times in January.
“The next host will be maintaining the legacy of a national institution.”