Two-thirds of “GMA3’s” anchors, T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, remain sidelined several days after being benched over their extramarital relationship. The longer this goes on, the less likely it feels that the co-hosts and couple will return to the 1 p.m. ABC News program, which marries the powerful “Good Morning America” branding with descriptive subtitle “What You Need to Know.”
Both separated from their spouses (Holmes is married to attorney Marilee Fiebig; Robach is married to actor and “Melrose Place” star Andrew Shue), Holmes and Robach are “probably” still being paid right now, two employment lawyers independently told IndieWire for this story. Meanwhile, ABC and “GMA3” producers are likely reviewing their contracts and observing public reaction. The show’s third co-host, Jennifer Ashton, is probably just trying to keep everyone’s pulse rate and blood pressure under control; good thing she’s a doctor.
“The bottom line is [ABC News] can do whatever they want,” said Amory McAndrew, a partner at Hoguet Newman Regal & Kenney LLP. “They’re just probably going to have to pay for it.”
Most employees are “at-will” and can essentially be fired for any reason (or really, no reason at all). On-air talent like Holmes and Robach almost surely have employment agreements that offer a greater level of job security — or at least, they make termination more complicated and probably more costly.
On Thursday, Puck reported that every ABC News employee must sign a contract stating they will “act at all times with due regard to public morals and conventions,” and that they can be terminated for behavior that brings the company “into public disrepute… scandal or ridicule… or which reflects unfavorably upon us.”
ABC News did not respond to IndieWire’s requests for comment, including our query about the reported contract language. A morality clause would make sense when talking about ABC’s parent company. As Devin McRae of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told us, “The whole thing about the double infidelity” doesn’t jive with Disney values.
“Journalists are supposed to report the news and not make it,” he said.
A source with knowledge of internal discussions at ABC News told IndieWire that Holmes’ and Robach’s consensual affair did not violate any company policy — but that doesn’t guarantee job security. “They could say: ‘You didn’t violate a policy, but we just want you out of here,'” McAndrew said.
That’s called being terminated “without cause,” and it usually triggers a predetermined payout when an employment agreement is in place. Perhaps that’s the employee’s future-contracted salary, an already-outlined severance package, or it’s negotiated at crisis time. If it’s that last one, a “discount” for the company is likely, McRae said.
In this case, all that drama (on top of the existing drama) and cost is likely avoidable. “There’s probably some sort of definition of ’cause’ that I think would grab anything that reflects poorly on ABC,” McAndrew said.
In Holmes’ case, the affair with Robach is reportedly not his first with a work colleague. A pattern of such behavior could lead to different outcomes for the now off-air pair, which would open a new can of worms for The Walt Disney Company’s attorneys. Since Holmes is Black and Robach is a woman, both are members of a legally “protected class,” McAndrew said. That, of course, doesn’t make them safe from being let go, it would just require their employer take a few extra steps in ensuring the respective — or collective — decisions are made completely above-board.
After joking a bit on-air last week about the circus they created, Holmes, 45, and Robach, 49, were benched by ABC News president Kim Godwin. “These decisions are not easy, they are not knee-jerk, but they are necessary for the brand and for our priority which, you guys know, are all of us — the people here at ABC,” Godwin said on a staff conference call Monday morning, one person who was on that call told IndieWire at the time.
Stephanie Ramos has filled in all week at the “GMA3” anchor desk, with Gio Benetiz and DeMarco Morgan each doing two days thus far. At this writing, there was no (public) plan for Friday’s episode.
“I imagine they’re suspended because the lawyers are negotiating whether or not this is actually going to be considered ’cause’ under the terms of their employment agreements, and whether or not there’s ’cause’ is going to determine what kind of severance payment that they’re going to get,” McAndrew said. “I’m assuming they’re moving toward ending the employment agreement — but maybe not.”
We’ll know soon enough — but McAndrew said any juicy details may be obscured behind a likely “non-disparagement agreement” in Holmes’ and Robach’s employment agreements.
McRae concurred. Should Holmes and Robach be terminated, there’s an “overwhelming likelihood” that this will be quietly arbitrated and settled, McRae said.
Someone tell that to Daily Mail. Holmes and Robach, who have worked together since September 2020 when Holmes joined “GMA3,” were reported to be in a relationship with each other last month when Daily Mail published 65 photos of them on a “romantic weekend” trip in upstate New York. “GMA3” is a solid performer in the Nielsen ratings in its time slot, though the lunchtime series attracts a much smaller audience than the morning show with which it shares its name.
“GMA3: What You Need to Know” began as “GMA Day” in 2018, an entertainment and celebrity-focused program hosted by Michael Strahan and Sara Haines. In 2019 it was rebranded “GMA3,” and Keke Palmer joined the program as a co-host later that year. In 2020, it was replaced by “Pandemic: What You Need to Know” during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Robach and Ashton. The “What You Need to Know” branding became permanent that summer; Holmes joined months later.