Suzie Hardy was a single mother with a preschool-age daughter when she landed a job as Ryan Seacrest’s personal stylist for “E! News” in 2006. The position provided good pay and a schedule that would allow her to pick up her child from school most workdays.
But according to a November letter from Hardy’s attorney addressed to cable channel E!, its corporate parent NBC Univeral and Seacrest, the job became an ordeal as Seacrest subjected Hardy to years of unwanted sexual aggression — grinding his erect penis against her while clad only in his underwear, groping her vagina and at one point slapping her buttock so hard that it left a large welt still visible hours later.
Hardy claimed that she endured the abuse for years out of concern over being able to provide for her daughter, and that the situation only ended in 2013, when, after reporting Seacrest’s actions to human resources executives, her employment ended.
Variety exclusively obtained a copy of the November letter and spoke on multiple occasions to Hardy and her attorney. In the letter and in exclusive interviews with Variety, Hardy described in detail numerous incidents of harassment and assault allegedly perpetrated by Seacrest over the years she was his stylist.
“As proud as I am and as strong as a woman as I am, as smart as I am and as much work as I’ve done with therapists, it really affected me,” Hardy told Variety of the abuse she said Seacrest subjected her to.
Seacrest has repeatedly refuted Hardy’s claims.
The Nov. 10 letter from Hardy’s attorney — Howard King of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP — asked Seacrest and E! to “come up with a plan to address the treatment of all women at the networks and to take responsibility for the wrongful treatment” of Hardy, and threatened “more formal action” if the request were ignored. On Nov. 17, Seacrest took the allegation public, announcing in a statement that E! was investigating a misconduct complaint against him made by “someone that worked as a wardrobe stylist for me nearly a decade ago at E! News,” and calling her claims “reckless allegations.” His statement effectively outed Hardy, who was known to those close to Seacrest and within E! as his longtime stylist.
Three months later, E! issued a statement saying that its investigation had concluded and found “insufficient evidence to support the claims against Seacrest.” The investigation was conducted by an outside counsel hired by NBCUniversal.
“Total exasperation was my definite feeling when I heard about it,” Hardy, who was interviewed three times by the independent investigator, told Variety. “I felt like by the third interview, it was obvious the investigator was whitewashing it for Seacrest’s side.” Hardy claimed that the investigator never contacted four witnesses she had referred him to who could corroborate elements of her story.
“E!’s investigation was extremely comprehensive and thorough,” an E! spokesperson told Variety. “Over the course of a two month process, our outside counsel interviewed more than two dozen people regarding the allegations, including multiple separate meetings with the claimant. The investigator is an attorney with nearly 20 years experience and is highly regarded professionally. Any claims that question the legitimacy of this investigation are completely baseless.”
Seacrest’s attorney, Andrew Baum, told Variety, “It is upsetting to us that Variety is electing to run a ‘story’ about untrue allegations that were made against my client, after they were told that the accuser threatened to make those false claims against him unless he paid her $15 million. At that time, the claimant threatened to issue a demonstrably false press statement unless she was paid. Instead, my client proactively and publicly denied the claims and agreed to fully cooperate with E!’s investigation about the matter.”
Baum continued, “On January 31st the network notified us that their independent third-party investigation had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support her claims, effectively, clearing my client’s name. It’s telling that after my client refused to pay her money, and the E! investigation resulted as it did, that she is now coming forward to share her debunked story to the press.”
Hardy’s attorney told Variety that neither he nor Hardy has asked Seacrest, E!, or the cable channel’s corporate parents for any money. Seacrest’s representatives provided no evidence that a monetary request was made.
Hardy became Seacrest’s personal stylist on “E! News” in 2007. She lived across the street at the time from Seacrest’s personal assistant, and had worked with the host previously on a Vanity Fair shoot with Seacrest and the “American Idol” cast. Hardy said that Seacrest’s assistant approached her about the job, which would provide steady pay and regular hours — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. As a single mom, Hardy considered it a godsend.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” Hardy told Variety of the moment when she was offered the position. “I didn’t have to worry anymore. I was going to get a regular paycheck every week.”
The letter from Hardy’s attorney described the bond shared by Seacrest and his team at the time Hardy began styling the host as family-like. According to Hardy, Seacrest’s assistant took an interest in her. The two women attended parties and concerts together, and Seacrest’s assistant would inquire often about Hardy’s personal life. Those questions allegedly gave way soon after to hints from the same assistant that Seacrest was interested in her romantically.
According to the November letter, Seacrest soon began asking her to be with him at times when her presence was obviously not required. On multiple occasions, Hardy said, she traveled at Seacrest’s request to his home to dress him, and also to the “American Idol” set, where he had another stylist. At one point, she said, he asked her through his assistant to come to his house after 8 p.m. to tie a necktie for him, a request Hardy refused. She said that when she expressed to Seacrest’s assistant concern about the propriety of going to the host’s house alone in the middle of the night, the assistant encouraged her to bring her young daughter with her as a form of protection.
Hardy claimed via the November letter that by the end of her first year working at E! that Seacrest’s assistant was often telling her about the host’s interest in her, saying he “is really into you” and “has a crush on you.” Hardy said that she declined Seacrest’s request while prepping for the 2007-08 “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special to “take a nap” with him.
According to the letter, Seacrest’s behavior became more physical and aggressive beginning with an incident that took place in his E! dressing room — Hardy said in an interview that the event took place in 2007 — in which Seacrest, while wearing only underwear, wrapped her in what the letter described as “a bear hug,” and did not let go until his assistant walked in. The letter claimed that while working for Seacrest, he hugged her in his underwear more than 10 times.
Hardy said in an interview that early in her tenure, Seacrest would often give her gifts that felt excessive, such as a $1,000 spa gift certificate. On another occasion, she said Seacrest, sitting in a director’s chair in his underwear, told Hardy, who was alone with him in his dressing room, “I just don’t think you’re attracted to me,” to which Hardy said she responded, “I’m attracted to my paycheck.” She described Seacrest as near tearful during the exchange.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it,” she told Variety. “I really didn’t. I was battling finally being in a decent financial position to breathe and be a mom, that I didn’t have to be freaking out all the time, and then dealing with this infantile celebrity person who was testing me on every level and manipulating me and knew that I was in a vulnerable position.”
In 2008, according to the November letter, while walking to the set of “E! News,” Seacrest slid his hand under Hardy’s crotch. In an interview, Hardy said that he slid his hand in from behind, cupped her crotch, then quickly pulled it away again. Seacrest, according to the letter, then asked her “Oh my god, are you going to sue me?” to which Hardy responded, “not if I stay employed.”
A former co-worker of Hardy’s at “E! News” told Variety that Hardy described the incident to him at the time that it allegedly occurred, and also told him about several times when Seacrest hugged her against her will. He said that he saw Seacrest trip Hardy on numerous occasions, and that he also saw Seacrest multiple times push Hardy’s head into his crotch while she was tying his shoes.
The same co-worker, who was interviewed by E! investigators, also told Variety that he witnessed two incidents of assault by Seacrest that he and Hardy, in separate accounts, allege took place in 2009.
The first was said to have occurred as Seacrest and crew members were leaving an E! set, where Hardy — in the letter and in interviews — and her coworker claim that Seacrest forcefully slapped Hardy’s buttock. Hours later at her home, Hardy looked at her buttock in the mirror, found a red welt, and photographed it. Hardy provided the photo to E! investigators and to Variety. Her attorney commissioned an analysis of the photo’s metadata, which confirmed that the picture was taken on the same day on which Hardy claimed Seacrest struck her buttock.
Hardy — in the letter and in interviews — and the same coworker said that a month later they were in Seacrest’s suite at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood where Hardy was helping him dress for the Academy Awards. According to separate accounts from both, Seacrest, again in his underwear, this time with a visible erection, grabbed Hardy, threw her onto the hotel-room bed, and climbed on top of her, rubbing his erection against her — stopping only when Hardy’s co-worker began yelling at him.
What Hardy characterizes as the most egregious offense allegedly occurred on the set of “E! News” in 2010. Hardy was, at the time, dating a high-powered entertainment attorney — toward the beginning of a relationship that would last three years. According to the letter and interviews with Hardy, as she stood in front of Seacrest, tying his tie, Seacrest inquired about the relationship, asking, “Have you f–ked him yet?” When Hardy responded by telling Seacrest not to ask her such questions, Seacrest allegedly reached down and tightly grabbed her vagina. She retreated in tears to a bathroom, where, she said, a production assistant approached her a few minutes later offering to walk her to human resources, but warning her that she would probably be fired if she reported Seacrest’s behavior. Hardy declined the offer.
Two coworkers who were not present at the time of the incident and one friend of Hardy unconnected to “E! News” told Variety that they recalled Hardy telling them about Seacrest grabbing her vagina at the time that it allegedly occurred. A non-work associate said that Hardy told him about Seacrest grabbing her vagina and forcing himself on her at the Roosevelt Hotel. Another associate said that Hardy told her near the time that the incidents allegedly occurred about Seacrest grabbing her vagina and slapping her buttock.
According to the letter, Hardy was asked in 2013 to meet with human resources executives who inquired about the nature of her relationship with Seacrest — Hardy emphasized that she never sought out HR, but that HR sought out her — and whether it was physical. “I was very proud to say ‘No, I don’t [have a physical relationship with Seacrest],’” Hardy told Variety. “I never touched him, I never kissed him, I never f–ked him, nothing. But I said, ‘But he touched me.’”
Hardy said to Variety that she told the executives that Seacrest had grabbed her vagina on set, and described other alleged abuse to them. “I was in there for hours. I told them everything.”
Two weeks later, Hardy said, she was told that her employment at “E! News” would end one week after the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony. She had no further in-person contact with Seacrest. On the day of the Oscars, she was directed to go to an empty hotel room, where she hung Seacrest’s tuxedo, then left. She did not dress him.
Hardy told Variety that Seacrest called her two months later offering vague assurances that the two would work together. Hardy expressed skepticism. Seacrest never offered her any future employment.
Since her departure from E!, Hardy has left the entertainment industry and now works for a San Francisco-based tech company. Seacrest — already a ubiquitous host and powerful television producer at the time that Hardy worked for him — has seen his star continue to rise. Last year, he became the new co-host of Kelly Ripa’s widely watched ABC daytime talk show, renamed “Live With Kelly & Ryan.” This year he is returning to the role that launched him to national notoriety as host of “American Idol,” currently filming in Los Angeles and set to premiere in March on ABC. His production company has an overall deal with ABC Studios.
Hardy sought therapy in the years since leaving “E! News.” (“I’ve seen every shrink in town,” she said.) Hardy felt emboldened to raise the issue of the alleged abuse she suffered — first in private with E!, then speaking to Variety after Seacrest made the allegation public and the cable channel’s investigation was completed — as she saw coverage of disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement begin to dominate the news cycle. She was shocked and insulted when, following the E! investigation, the Hollywood Reporter published a guest column under the headline “What Happened After I Was Wrongly Accused of Harassment,” in which Seacrest wrote that “an independent third party found the claims to be unsubstantiated and that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on my part.” The E! statement said that the investigator found “insufficient evidence.” Seacrest’s assertion that no evidence of wrongdoing was presented further encouraged Hardy to speak out about the experience that she had only discussed privately during her E! years.
“I came from a freelance life, and it was scary,” she told Variety. “It was hard to raise a child and not know where your next check was going to come from, and if that gig was going to take me out of town for two weeks. It was a better deal all the way around, even if I was being abused. It’s sick to say, but it was true.”
Source: Daniel Holloway, Variety
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