California Appeals Court Revives Producer’s Wrongful Termination Case Against CNN

As an employee, pursuing your wrongful termination case may mean clearing many hurdles. In one recent case that the Second District Court of Appeal decided in favor of the employee, the employee faced an extra leap: overcoming his employer’s anti-SLAPP defense. The appeals court concluded that the employer’s acts of discrimination and retaliation could not qualify as acts in furtherance of its free speech rights, thereby granting an important victory to employees of media employers.

The employee in the case was a veteran producer for the TV news giant Cable News Network. During the producer’s 17-year stint with CNN, he received only one promotion despite applying for numerous jobs. In early 2014, CNN fired the producer, alleging that the termination was the result of CNN’s discovery that the producer had engaged in plagiarism. The producer sued, alleging that CNN wrongfully terminated him and that the real reason the network ended his employment was because he was African-American, rather than the plagiarism issue.

In many cases, the matter might proceed with the employee seeking to prove that his case had all of the required elements of a discrimination case, the employer asserting a valid, non-discriminatory reason for the termination, and the employee attempting to prove that the stated non-discriminatory reason was really just a pretext for discrimination.

In the producer’s case, though, there was an extra wrinkle beyond just those factors. The employer sought to dismiss the case by arguing that the producer’s lawsuit violated California’s “anti-SLAPP” law. SLAPP is an acronym that stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” California’s anti-SLAPP law says that, if a lawsuit improperly infringes on a defendant’s free speech rights or right to participate in the political process, the defendant can request the dismissal of the case.

CNN asserted that, since the producers it does (and does not) employ inherently shape the way CNN presents the news to the public, the hiring and firing decisions it made were an integral part of its exercise of free speech. The trial court accepted that argument and dismissed the case.

The appeals court revived the man’s case, however. While agreeing with the employer that its hiring decisions had an obvious impact on CNN’s presentation of the news, the employer still wasn’t entitled to a dismissal on anti-SLAPP grounds. To warrant a dismissal, an employee’s claim must relate to an act by the employer that was in furtherance of the employer’s free speech rights. While making selective decisions regarding who produced their news was an act in furtherance of CNN’s free speech, the employer’s alleged acts of discrimination and retaliation were not acts in furtherance of the company’s free speech rights. This meant that the producer was allowed to continue forward with his case.

The hardworking Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have helped many working people pursue their rights through wrongful termination litigation. For more information regarding how this office can put its resources to work for you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

When Your Employer Can (and Can’t) Force You to Arbitrate Your California Wrongful Termination Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Nov. 15, 2016

Courts Refuse to Allow San Francisco Mechanic to Pursue Title VII, FEHA Claims Over Noose Hung in the Workplace, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, June 15, 2016

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