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Under fire after lawsuit, Al- Jazeera America loses executive

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NEW YORK — The Al-Jazeera America news network, sued by a former employee who said he was fired for complaining about a colleague's anti-Semitic and sexist behavior, is losing one of its top U.S. news executives.

Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive, told Al Jazeera on Monday that she was leaving the company, said Kate O'Brian, network president. McGinnis had been Al-Jazeera America's senior vice president of news gathering, but was recently removed and given the job of senior vice president of corporate outreach.

McGinnis did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Her transfer had been mentioned as part of a lawsuit filed last week in New York State Supreme Court by Matthew Luke. The former Al-Jazeera America employee alleged that a colleague said that "whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell."

Luke claimed that the ex-colleague, Osman Mahmud, had also denigrated female employees at the news network and directed him to remove two women from an email chain involving a project they were working on. Luke said he was fired in February, 10 days after he reported examples of Mahmud's conduct to human resources.

Al-Jazeera America's CEO, Ehab Al Shihabi, said Monday that the company does not tolerate discriminatory conduct and that "the recent attacks on us as being anti-Semitic, sexist and anti-American are absurd."

PHOTO: FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2013 file photo, Al-Jazeera America editorial newsroom staff prepare for their first broadcast in New York. The Al-Jazeera America news network is losing one of its top U.S. news executives. Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive, told Al Jazeera on Monday that she was leaving the company, said Kate O'Brian, network president. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2013 file photo, Al-Jazeera America editorial newsroom staff prepare for their first broadcast in New York. The Al-Jazeera America news network is losing one of its top U.S. news executives. Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive, told Al Jazeera on Monday that she was leaving the company, said Kate O'Brian, network president. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Al Shihabi said, however, that he would not comment specifically on any of the allegations in Luke's lawsuit.

The case represents unwelcome publicity for a network, an offshoot of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera international news operation, that has struggled to find an audience in the United States since gaining entry into about half the nation's television homes through the purchase of Al Gore's Current TV network.

Al Shihabi said on Monday that the network is making an impact with its journalism, and said established networks like CNN and Fox News Channel got off to slow starts with viewers upon their launches.

"This is a huge success story," he said.

McGinnis was among a handful of established American television news professionals hired at Al-Jazeera America's start to help guide the international network into the market — among them O'Brian, anchors Ali Velshi and John Seigenthaler, and news producer David Doss.

Luke's lawsuit alleges that Mahmud told McGinnis that he wanted to replace an Israeli cameraman for the network's Middle East correspondent with a Palestinian. Luke said he saw Mahmud addressing McGinnis "in an abrasive and condescending manner" about the cost of the Israeli cameraman.

McGinnis refused. The lawsuit alleges that McGinnis reported Mahmud's conduct to the network's human resources department, and she was transferred shortly after.

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