Longtime KUSI human resources director Sally Luck was grilled on her response to Sandra Maas pay disparity complaint.
Longtime KUSI human resources director Sally Luck was grilled on her response to Sandra Maas pay disparity complaint. Photo by Ken Stone

Sandra Maas was an “aloof, disgruntled, unhappy” staffer who lacked the 24/7 news ethic of her male co-anchor in her last year at KUSI-TV, says her former news director.

“She seemed angry, distant. … Everything seemed to upset her,” Steve Cohen testified Wednesday in downtown Superior Court.

But Cohen cited few specific examples of behavior that led KUSI not to renew her contract in 2019 — after the station alleged lack of preparedness, failing to help co-workers and grousing about doing promos called newsbreaks.

“No circumstances that I could remember,” Cohen said of her not being ready at work.

In fact, in his January 2020 deposition, Cohen wouldn’t say Allen Denton, the co-anchor, worked harder than Maas. And Cohen said under oath that he heard no complaints about her not mentoring newsroom colleagues.

Did Cohen ever “write up” Maas for unprofessional behavior?

“No, I never did,” he said.

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On Day 5 of the Maas pay-equity, gender/age discrimination and retaliation trial, conflicting pictures were drawn of Maas and Denton.

KUSI lawyers noted the time Maas called Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher a Marine on-air. And they contrasted one of her weekly “Healthy Living” segments about “Cool Sculpting” with a Denton report on life aboard a Navy submarine.

(The same February 2019 email on the Gallagher flub also tweaked Denton for saying a SeaWorld rescue occurred on a Tuesday night when it actually was Monday.)

Cohen rapped the Maas report (shown to the jury) as poorly executed — a “sort of commercial piece” with no mention of downsides or even costs of the fat-freezing procedure. He called her health reports “derivative” and not original journalism like Denton’s.

Also shown: a short clip of Maas rolling her eyes while sitting beside sports director Paul Rudy.

The Maas lawyers — with lead attorney Josh Gruenberg watching a screen from home after testing positive late Tuesday night for COVID — objected to what they called “cherry-picking” negative portrayals of the plaintiff.

And when time came for the next witness — Human Resources director Sally Luck — the Maas team went to work throwing the book at her.

The book was the KUSI employee policy manual.

Maas attorney Pamela Vallero displayed screen after screen of KUSI policies she contended weren’t carried out by Luck, who’s been with the station nearly 21 years.

Among them: sections on courtesy, absenteeism and tardiness and a conduct policy against having a bad attitude that disrupts the workplace and fuels bad morale.

But the key issue for the Maas lawyers was Luck not taking seriously enough an April 30, 2018, email from Maas complaining about not being paid as well as newsroom men she said were recently given “lucrative” contracts.

“I wasn’t aware of any lucrative deals,” Luck said on the stand.

Although she looked up a contract for anchor Jason Austell, she didn’t interview Maas or Denton, and said she didn’t investigate why Denton was paid more than Maas.

“I didn’t have to,” she said. “I knew the reasons.” (Luck also said she didn’t do annual performance reviews.)

Later, Luck said Denton and Maas didn’t have comparable duties, since he did an extra evening newscast. And she said of the email — which she likened to a sales pitch: “I knew what she said in the email was untrue.”

Vallero challenged Luck: “You were being an echo chamber” and “you weren’t doing your job.”

Luck responded: “I think I was being neutral … to look out for and protect our employees (as well as) the employer.”

Under friendly cross examination from KUSI lawyer Marisa Janine-Page, Luck recounted her professional training in HR and labor law, which included attending at least two seminars a year (to catch up on the latest laws).

Luck said she read “legal blogs.”

When asked if she ever told KUSI management things they didn’t want to hear, she said: “Sure.”

Did she ever fear telling the owner McKinnons bad news?

“Never,” Luck said. “We have a very good relationship” and didn’t fear retaliation for “doing my job.”

On Thursday, Luck will finish her testimony, to be followed later by plaintiff Maas herself.

But Maas lawyer Gruenberg will continue recovering from what he called his first bout with COVID.

Judge Ronald Frazier, who Tuesday ripped Gruenberg’s team for wasting a “tremendous amount of time,” apologized a bit.

“All my grumpiness yesterday — just forget about it,” he said. “I want you to get healthy.”