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Oprah Hit With Lawsuit: Problems Plague OWN Network; Where Does Channel Go From Here? [REPORT]

By iDigital Times Staff Reporter on February 2, 2013 5:05 PM EST 0

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah and her much-embattled network are under fire once again after a former employee claimed she was fired for announcing her pregnancy. Now media insiders wonder if Oprah's network can withstand more bad press. (Photo: Reuters)

After Oprah was hit with a lawsuit on Friday, media insiders are once again debating the future of her long-embattled network OWN.

Carolyn Hommel, a former employee of the network, has filed a lawsuit saying she was slowly phased out as senior director of scheduling and acquisitions after she announced she was pregnant.

In the lawsuit, Hommel claims that her status was soon changed to temporary employee and she was excluded from key meetings when she returned after her maternity leave. The situation only got worse, says Hommel. According to court documents, she was then fired from Oprah's network a month after giving birth. Though she was told to reapply - and that the application process would just be a formality - she was allegedly turned down for the position she once had.

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Hommel continues her allegations saying that Michael Garner, her former boss, concocted a performance review in order to justify the firing.

This is far from the first time Oprah and her network have grabbed headlines. At the end of November, Winfrey announced at a conference that she'd had a breast cancer scare. No one was more surprised than her best friend, Gayle King. Oprah never told her best friend.

"When Ms. King grew visibly upset, one woman chided Ms. Winfrey for not telling her friend ahead of time and ordered her to apologize to Ms. King," The New York Times reported. And this was "all before an audience."

Winfrey has suffered from many weight-related health issues. "My body was turning on me. First hyperthyroidism, which sped up my metabolism and left me unable to sleep for days." she wrote in 2007. "Then hypothyroidism, which slowed down my metabolism and made me want to sleep all the time."

But she's always been very upfront about her issues. Now at 58, without her 25-year talk show, stresses seem to be taking a toll on her. The cable network OWN, which she started with Discovery Communications, was plagued early on by delays, executive turnover and ratings slumps. And although the network now seems to be on its way back with high numbers in September, The New York Times reported that Winfrey is still very much feeling the heat, in part because her magazine O is hemorrhaging money.

"Ultimately, you have to make money because you are a business. I let other people worry about that. I worry about the message," she said. "I am always, always, always about holding true to the vision and the message, and when you are true to that, then people respond." 

Will she shutter the magazine's doors if it continues to flounder? "Obviously, the show was helping in ways that you know I hadn't accounted for," Winfrey said. "I'm not interested, you know, in bleeding money."

Any which way executives are determined to make a success of OWN. "We are poised for some tremendous growth from a business and ratings point of view," co-president Erik Logan said in March. "We're much more confident that [they're] more on-brand than they were last summer."

Nevertheless, the expectations for Winfrey have been huge. With an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion, Winfrey could easily retire, focusing on charity work, like some other media moguls have in the past. But let's be honest; that's not exactly Oprah Winfrey's style.

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