Allen Denton and Sandra Maas were co-anchors of the KUSI nightly news. But she learned he was paid $70,000 more than her in 2018-2019.
Allen Denton and Sandra Maas were co-anchors of the KUSI nightly news for nearly 10 years until 2019. Image via court records

Next week, owners of KUSI-TV are prepared to play hardball at trial against former anchor Sandra Maas, whose lawsuit alleges she was illegally paid far less than her male co-anchor.

KUSI’s trial brief, summarizing arguments (PDF)

That includes documenting her supposed antipathy for Donald Trump (as a reason for colleague Allen Denton being sent to cover the 2017 presidential inauguration instead of Maas) and her family’s wealth.

If Maas repeats what she said in a deposition — that she was forced to take “inadequate pay” because her family depended on her income — “they will open the door to … her family’s financial condition,” said lawyers for McKinnon Broadcasting Co. in a Jan. 27 brief.

“Her family is affluent,” they wrote Judge Ronald Frazier. “They live in Carmel Valley and she drives a Mercedes. Her husband is a bank CFO. … They sent their children to expensive private schools…. They socialize in the milieu of wealthy residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar and La Jolla, and they attend lavish charity fundraising lunches and dinners.”

On Friday, lawyers for both sides attended a 5-minute housekeeping meeting viewed by Maas and two reporters — including one from CBS8.

Frazier said pretrial motions — at least 17 — will be heard Monday with jury selection expected to begin Tuesday in the downtown Hall of Justice.

Audio recording would be allowed only for opening and closing statements and verdicts, he said. But he’d OK still photography at the expected two-week trial.

“I don’t want it to be a distraction,” he said Friday, not yet addressing a KUSI request to bar the press and public during parts of the trial.

MBC attorneys Ken Fitzgerald, Marisa Janine-Page and Caitlin Macker say they intend to introduce “limited evidence” of Maas’ personal views about specific political figures to rebut her contention that MBC engaged in gender discrimination by selecting Denton over Maas to attend the 2017 Trump inauguration.

The conservative station said the reason Maas wasn’t chosen was because she told people she opposed Trump.

KUSI also wants potential jurors to be asked an additional 14 questions, including:

  • Do you regularly watch any national cable TV news programs or stations or get your news from websites or social media feeds, such as CNN, Fox, MSNBC, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, etc? If so, which ones?
  • Are there any conservative TV news stations, local or national, that you refuse to watch based on their political perspective? If so, which ones?”
  • Do you support or are you involved in any political advocacy groups?
  • Within the past 10 years, have you participated in any protests, marches or gatherings, such as the Women’s March, the March for Science, Black Lives Matter, the March for Life or any political rally?

KUSI lists 36 potential witnesses for their side. The Maas team identifies 20 so-called percipients, including Maas. The lists overlap.

Many are familiar to KUSI viewers, including former anchor Denton himself, Anna Laurel, Logan Byrnes, Sasha Foo, Ross Becker, Dan Plante and sports chief Paul Rudy.

McKinnon family members will be called, including station founder Mike Dee McKinnon Sr. and his general manager son Mike Dean McKinnon Jr.

The Maas team hopes to call two expert witnesses — workplace investigations veteran Debra Reilly and damages expert Heather Xitco, a University of San Diego MBA with “more than 15 years of experience applying accounting, financial and economic principles to the litigation process.”

KUSI plans to call financial forensics consultant Anna Addleman.*

Selected court filings by KUSI and Sandra Maas. (PDF)
Selected court filings by KUSI and Sandra Maas. (PDF)

But KUSI’s main thrust is that Denton better deserved his $250,000-a-year salary — $70,000 more than Maas, depicted as a slacker who slammed her workplace.

“For at least the last few years of her tenure as a KUSI news anchor, Maas was not a good team member or a dedicated journalist,” said the KUSI trial brief. “She worked far fewer hours than the male anchors…. She often arrived on set just barely in time to tape news breaks and go on air live to present the nightly news, causing problems for producers, news floor staff, writers and co-workers.”

Maas’ on-air performance was very good, they conceded, but “her work habits and attitude were not.”

KUSI lawyers also said Maas, now 60, looked for work at a competing station, and told KUSI she was ready to walk if she didn’t get the salary she felt she deserved, declining a three-year deal in favor of a one-year contract — telling MBC that “I’ll take my chances.”

“Her gamble on her market value did not pay off,” they added. “No other station hired her.”

KUSI’s legal team said it would present video evidence of her unprofessional moments on and off camera.

“Her lack of preparation and true attitude toward her job will be apparent from this evidence, and some of the videos will disprove some of her sworn testimony at deposition,” lawyers said.

“Maas had made it clear, through her work habits, outbursts and disrespectful treatment of co-workers and management, that she hated the station she had called ‘this mess of a place.'”

In an effort to show Maas can’t claim lost income after leaving KUSI, defense lawyers say they will show Maas hasn’t worked as a news anchor or reporter since exiting the Kearny Mesa station.

“Her efforts to mitigate damages by finding another anchor job were not real robust,” KUSI says. “She contacted a few connections, met with several people in positions to hire, but never hired an agent or made a serious effort to find a new job.”

In a court filing, Maas’ lawyers responded to KUSI’s motion to keep the press and public out of the courtroom when staff salaries are discussed.

“It is Defendant KUSI who is endangering the privacy of those individuals — not Sandra Maas,” said attorneys Josh Gruenberg, Josh Pang and Pamela Vallero — noting their own effort to exclude salary info on staffers other than Allen Denton.

“If any media member(s) show up, it will be because this case is deemed a matter of public interest — namely, the equal pay of women between two well-known San Diego television co-anchors,” the Maas lawyers said. “To that end, it is probably important they can witness how … KUSI is seeking to defend itself.”

On Friday, Judge Frazier closed the session with sympathy over the storm to come.

“Have as good a weekend as possible,” the former litigator said. “I haven’t forgotten what it’s like.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said Addleman was an expert for the Maas team.

Updated at 8:41 a.m. Feb. 4, 2023