Liz Linehan thought she was living out her childhood dream when she became a producer and on-air personality for a morning drivetime radio show in the mid-1990s.
Linehan would perform her own radio shows as a teenager, using her friends as guests, and fantasized about interviewing stars like Madonna.
Then one morning, she said another personality on the show sexually assaulted her as a commercial break was coming to an end, putting his hand on her chair and touching her inappropriately as she went to sit down.
Linehan, now a freshman Democratic state representative from Cheshire, said she fought back anger, embarrassment, and tears until the next break, when she told her program director about the incident.
She was confident the incident would result in swift and decisive action for her coworker, who had a reputation for that kind of behavior. Instead, Linehan said she was essentially placed on paid leave for three months before being transferred to another station, where she was then fired.
Linehan said she also became the subject of rumors that followed her throughout Connecticut’s small radio industry, forcing her to eventually leave for New York and become a concert promoter.
She shared snippets of the incident publicly over the next 20 years, but, as powerful men in several industries have recently been accused of sexual misconduct, Linehan says she was inspired to share her experience after seeing some of the response.
Specifically, Linehan said her story is an example of why victims, who have less stature than their attackers and are often women, are scared to come forward. Some critics have questioned why victims have taken so long to come forward with their accounts.
“We need to unlearn the slut-shaming that happens,” Linehan said, expressing particular frustration about women launching the criticism toward other women. “We need to stand up together and, not just believe people who are accusing others, but also to say that this is a culture that we’re not going to stand for anymore.”
The Record-Journal has talked with four people who, collectively, corroborated Linehan’s account of events, two who talked on the record and two who agreed to talk only when granted anonymity. Those sources still work in the radio industry, and were concerned about repercussions.
Linehan isn’t publicly naming the man she is accusing, nor is she identifying either radio station. She said she isn’t seeking retribution, and only wants to share her account as an example of why victims need more support from the public.
The Record-Journal did reach out to the alleged attacker to ask if he contested the allegations, but he didn’t respond to multiple emails seeking comment.
The company that owned the two stations in Linehan’s account has since been acquired by another company. The Record-Journal is not naming the company because Linehan isn’t naming the stations, but still reached out to that company to ask if it contested the allegations.
After gathering information about Linehan’s allegations, a regional manager didn’t return a request for comment.
After graduating from Central Connecticut State University, Linehan began working at a Connecticut radio station and quickly progressed from intern to producer for her first station’s morning show, a role that also saw her appearing on air.
One of the other personalities would often make crude comments, Linehan said. She said she would tolerate any remarks that occurred during the show, but felt off air comments often constituted sexual harassment.
Brian Krysz, station program director at the time, said the employee “had the type of personality to push things,” and was “reprimanded” a few times after complaints from coworkers.
He said he knew things were worse, though, when Linehan came into his office in tears one morning.
“She had a high threshold for things like that,” he said. “It had to be bad for her to come to me.”
Linehan said she and the rest of the on-air crew were in the studio, getting ready to go on the air when her alleged attacker put his hand on her chair, fingers curled to face up. Linehan said that she had to hop up onto the chair, and the man’s fingers penetrated her when she dropped down onto the seat.
About to go on the air, Linehan said she could not report the incident immediately. She spent the next four or five minutes on air “fighting back the tears and, quite frankly, getting really angry.” She then went to Krysz’s office during the next break.
The incident happened as the station’s owner was involved in a merger. Krysz, who has since retired, planned to bring Linehan’s complaint immediately to his supervisors, but was fired as part of the merger — Linehan said the firing happened the same day, Krysz the next.
Linehan quickly brought her complaint to the new program director and was told to go home for the day. She thought she would see justice, and her alleged attacker would be punished.
Instead she was told daily to remain at home, with pay, without any updates for a period that lasted three months, when she had a chance encounter with a company manager, and asked why she wasn’t being allowed to return to work.
That man arranged for a meeting, at which time Linehan was transferred to another Connecticut station within the same company, and her attacker was required to enroll in a women’s studies class. The program director confirmed Linehan’s account of events, but asked not to be named.
Chris Fleming, a co-worker at Linehan’s first station, said Linehan had garnered a negative reputation. “I think there was a general sentiment that she was branded a troublemaker,” said Fleming, now the manager of a station in Indiana.
Linehan said the change was a demotion, despite insistence from superiors that it was a lateral move. She only handled promotional activities, and had no work as a producer or on-air presence.
Fleming and Krysz agreed that the outcome was common in the radio industry at the time. Linehan’s attacker had a much larger on-air presence, and was under contract, and Krysz said executives often opted to push out less publicly known, and at-will, employees to protect those seen more vital to success.
“I’ve seen it where ratings do make a difference, where the status of an employee does make a difference,” he said. He and Fleming said they believe the radio industry has since changed in how it deals with complaints.
Linehan said she was only at the new station for a few months when, while looking for promotional materials, she found a file labeled with her name. Inside the file was a list of rumors that, she said, were “really outrageous,” untrue, and intended to discredit her.
She took the file and notified her program manager, who scheduled a meeting the next day. At that meeting, a group of company lawyers fired her for stealing company property.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I sat there like ‘you people are supposed to be, not just protecting me, but in protecting me, you should be protecting your company. Get your people out, they’re doing the wrong thing.’”
The program manager from this station, now working in Boston, Massachusetts, said he didn’t recall the events. He offered to refer the call to his station’s promotional department before hanging up.
One of Linehan’s former coworkers, though, said the rumors about her had followed her to her new station, and had become known by even those who had no hand in the on-air production. The source said those rumors included allegations about her personal life.
The source, who asked not to be named, recalled being in Linehan’s home around this time and telling her she was being called a lesbian, for example. The source also said Linehan had a difficult time getting a new job after she was fired.
Linehan said she was only able to get a job after a woman contacted her and informed her of the rumors. The woman, a general manager at the time but who didn’t respond to a request for comment, said women needed to stick together and hired Linehan, according to Linehan.
Linehan said the rumors continued to follow her and made her job difficult, though, and she left for New York after a year. She also shifted careers and became a concert promoter.
Linehan has told friends and family and has shared some details on social media, but she is speaking in detail publicly now because of some of the rhetoric toward others alleging sexual misconduct.
Some of the critics have questioned victims who don’t immediately report their complaints — Geraldo Rivera, of Fox News, even recently suggested on Twitter a five-year time limit. Linehan said the fact that her career was destroyed shows fears of destroyed careers aren’t just hyperbole.
It has also taken her two decades to fully come to terms with what happened to her — for one thing, talking about the incident is still emotionally upsetting, even as she said she has accepted it as part of her life.
She was fearful the rumors would come up during her first run for state representative in 2012, then again in 2016. Now running for lieutenant governor, Linehan said she has only become comfortable because no one has presented the rumors in an effort to end her campaign.
She also said she only realized last year that the 1995 incident would constitute sexual assault, and was more than mere inappropriate workplace conduct.
Linehan said the realization happened while talking with Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe about a series of incidents involving the same suspect accused of groping multiple women. She said she was saying how residents characterized the incidents as mere pats on the buttocks, when Dryfe said the allegations constituted sexual assault.
Linehan said at that moment, she realized she had been understating what happened to her and that it constituted sexual assault. She only recently started using the word penetration when describing what happened.
“I remember it was like a light bulb going off — it’s sexual assault,” she said. “So before, when I spoke about it, it was kind of — he grabbed me, and I would kind of explain that his hand was flat, but his fingers were up, and there was a shove.”
Linehan is hoping for a change in conversation around sexual misconduct, and wants to build off the #metoo social media campaign, when women began sharing their experiences publicly.
She said she “felt a little insulated and alone” in talking about her experience, because even she didn’t realize how many people had experienced sexual harassment or assault.
“Friends that I have known for years that have known what happened to me, but never discussed (their own experiences) with me, and then that simple little ‘me too,’” she said.
Linehan said her experience, and the aftermath, have shaped her political career, notably her motivation to push for protections for women in the workplace.
“We need to change the laws, and we need to make sure that they’re strengthened so that this doesn’t happen to people now, 20-some-odd years later,” she said.