KUSI struck out Friday when a Superior Court judge denied the station’s attempt to disqualify the legal team of its former anchor, Sandra Maas, who is suing the conservative outlet in a pay-equity case.
Three weeks after hearing dueling motions, Judge Ronald Frazier also ordered KUSI to turn over all copies of ex-anchor Anna Laurel’s private emails that KUSI CFO Steven Sadler admitted reading on a shared newsroom laptop — even after Laurel left the station.
“Subject emails” have to be surrendered to Gruenberg Law on or before April 8, Frazier said in his ruling.
In a brief discussion, Frazier said KUSI didn’t show that Gruenberg Law — Maas’ attorneys — engaged in unethical or otherwise improper conduct. He denied KUSI’s motion to have those lawyers kicked off the case.
KUSI had argued that Laurel was a “secret agent” conspiring with Maas — even suggesting without evidence that Maas promised Laurel a financial windfall if she helped Maas’ case.
In a long review of case law, Frazier wrote that even though an employer can inspect an employee’s company email, it can’t snoop into private email accessed via company property.
Laurel wasn’t using the company email account.
“Ms. Laurel’s personal web-based Gmail account is not part of the Company’s information systems,” Frazier wrote. “Moreover, although [KUSI’s] policy indicates employees have no right of privacy when using company equipment for personal purposes, the court is not persuaded that either [KUSI’s] policy or the legal authorities extend far enough to permit an employer, its executives, or any of its other employees to conduct a search of a personal, web-based email account.”
But Frazier wouldn’t touch allegations by Maas’ attorneys that Laurel’s emails were “stolen” and that KUSI committed a crime.
“That issue is not properly before this court, and this court expresses no opinion on this issue,” Frazier wrote.
Maas’ last day at KUSI was June 13, 2019. Twelve days later, she sued her employer of 15 years, alleging that her co-anchor, Allen Denton, was paid $70,000 more than her in 2018-2019 — and $90,000 more in earlier years.
A trial date was originally set for April 30, 2021, but was eventually delayed several times to December 2, 2022.
“Unfortunately, the judge had to push out the trial date … due to scheduling conflicts. Aftermath of COVID,” said Maas attorney Joshua Pang.