Morning news anchor Jennifer Livingston, who works for a CBS affiliate in La Crosse, Wis., became a news story herself this week when she used her local television platform to call out a viewers’ negative email regarding her weight. In her four-minute on-air response, she likened the letter to an act of “bullying.”
The email was sent directly to Livingston from local lawyer Kenneth Krause. He accused her of not being a responsible community role model because she is obese. The full email, with the subject line “Community Responsibility,” reads:
“Hi Jennifer,
It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Sure you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Encouraged by colleagues, including her husband Mike Thompson, an evening news co-anchor at the station, and her brother actor Ron Livingston, Livingston decided not to just laugh it off and said the following on Tuesday’s broadcast:
“The truth is I am overweight. You can call me fat and yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart. To the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that? Your cruel words are pointing out something I don’t see? You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you admitted that you don’t watch this show so you know nothing about me besides what you see on the outside–and I am much more than a number on a scale….”
Livingston went on to point out that October is anti-bullying month. The Internet has become a weapon for bullies, she said, and children struggling with their weight should not let their self-worth be defined by such people. She later appeared on national TV to talk about the controversy.
Krause didn’t respond to calls for comment, but he issued a statement: “Considering Jennifer Livingston’s fortuitous position in the community, I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year.”
Whatever you may think of Krause’s comments, methods, or underlying point, this type of comment from a co-worker can be the basis for a gender discrimination hostile work environment claim. What started as anonymous is now open. There may be debate online whether this constitutes bullying behavior. There is no question that had this been a workplace incident it could be considered an actionable legal claim.

Depending upon the facts bullying may constitute a tort; a civil wrong for which a lawsuit can be brought. Bullying, however, is difficult to document since many times it’s done in private; bullying is often done by a supervisor or manager and difficult to report for fear of losing one’s job.   A person can sue the bully, individually, and if it’s in the workplace, the employer can also be sued if it knows of the bad acts and takes no action to eliminate those acts or discipline the offending employee. Additionally, punitive damages can be sought for torts which are maliciously or oppressively perpetrated.
-Wayne Perkey Staff Writer