Are you surprised you didn’t get any job offers (after) suing your former employer?
Didn’t you or your team tip the media to the lawsuit?
You enjoyed calling attention to your lawsuit through your social media, haven’t you?
Ken Fitzgerald, lead lawyer for KUSI-TV, has a relaxed, measured style of cross examination — almost serene. But in questioning former anchor Sandra Maas on Wednesday, his inquiry was anything but gentle.
This lawsuit is part of building your brand as a champion of women’s rights.
Are you contending you worked as hard as Paul Rudy?
Didn’t (Rudy) tell you that you had the easiest job at the station — because you worked so few hours?
With her lawyers raising objections, Maas didn’t have to answer certain questions on Day 8 of her pay-equity trial (along with claims of gender/age discrimination and illegal retaliation).
You did not clock out when you took your meal breaks, did you?
You were effectively asking for less work and more money, aren’t you?
Finally, Maas had a question of her own.
“Why are you rolling your eyes?” she asked Fitzgerald after a series of queries on whether she actively sought public support for her June 2019 lawsuit.
“People in the community understand what it’s like to be undervalued and underpaid in 2023,” she said. “Yes, people have supported me. I haven’t asked people to please support me.”
On the witness stand a second day (for almost 4 hours), Maas parried challenging questions — backed by charts — about whether she worked 40-hour weeks or posted enough on social media. She was asked about her lack of awards (as compared to former co-anchor Allen Denton) or why she didn’t use an agent.
She was asked about statements on her Wikipedia profile (apparently written by former colleague Mark Larson). She was confronted with text messages boasting about waging a years-long fight for equal pay. And why she didn’t seek a job outside San Diego.
At one point, Fitzgerald asked about career exaggerations on SandraMaas.com — “the official website of Sandra Maas” — to which Maas said: “I don’t have a website.” (Turns out Larson created the domain to promote her as part of his speakers agency.)
And exactly what did she allege when her April 30, 2018, email asked her station boss for pay comparable to other men at the conservative station?
(Maas admitted she hadn’t even heard of the California Equal Pay Act when she wrote Mike McKinnon Jr. about “lucrative contracts” given her male counterparts.)
With spectator seating again packed — including friends an industry colleagues (like NBC San Diego* retiree Rory Devine) — Maas sometimes gave as good as she got. (Her attorney Josh Gruenberg showed his temper once as well.)
“They wanted me to walk out of there silently. … And I chose not to do that,” she said.
After Fitzgerald noted her social media had images of Rosie the Riveter and the hashtag #FightingForPayEquality, Maas said she held herself up as an advocate for women, “not an activist.”
And later, her voice rising, Maas proclaimed her mission.
“What I’m seeking in this lawsuit is to expose McKinnon Broadcasting Co. for what it is — they are not a friend of women. … I am seeking justice.”
She said other women in the newsroom share similar stories — asserting that former KUSI reporter Sasha Foo went 13 years without a raise.
Maas responded to questions on how she dealt with the stress of losing her KUSI job of 15 years: She did weekday morning pilates and took long hikes. And relied on friends and family.
Fitzgerald said: “Being in litigation causes anxiety.”
Amid courtroom tension — the highest of the trial — laughter also was heard.
Jurors noticed a man passing brazenly in the KUSI studio background of a video clip.
Fitzgerald noted Maas posting “Good day!” on her social media. He asked: “That was on the day that the judge said the trial would go forward, wasn’t it?”
Judge Frazier quipped: “You’re not going to call me as a witness.” Giggles in the courtroom.
But the serious business of unearthing evidence took a strange turn when Maas was asked whether her former co-anchor had “ghosted” her legal team.
“He disappeared mysteriously at the end,” she said in the morning. “Someone got to him.”
Hours later, after Judge Frazier urged both sides to again try to reach the previously unreachable Allen Denton, they reported he was contacted by phone and would testify via MS Teams next week.
Another mystery was noted and solved.
Fitzgerald said Maas wrote to general manager McKinnon about her Mercedes being keyed at two different times in the KUSI employee parking lot, suspecting a station staffer.
But when she learned that news director Steve Cohen also had his car defaced by scratches, “I felt a little better about it,” Maas testified.
The last hour Wednesday saw both sides quiz former KUSI anchor Anna Laurel — who now works for CBS8 (Maas’ station before KUSI).
Laurel described a career journey that included stops in Phoenix, Fresno and Raleigh, North Carolina, and how KUSI news chief Cohen tried several times to lure her to the Kearny Mesa station.
Despite a $250,000 salary offer from the Raleigh station to stay put, Laurel wanted to return to California. She eventually surrendered to Cohen, coming to work at KUSI in September 2018 for a multiyear contract at $150,000 a year.
She soon was paired with Maas. Then about age 42, Laurel said Cohen proclaimed her afternoon-newscast anchor partnership with Maas “TV gold.”
(Laurel — who labeled Maas “the darling of the newsroom” — said she’d tease her new friend that they were “Kathie Lee and Hoda,” a reference to the national NBC “Today Show” with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.)
But upon learning that KUSI wouldn’t renew Maas’ contract in summer 2019, a “very disappointed” Laurel was “so shocked.” She thought: “How can we be a Dynamic Duo if she’s leaving?”
Laurel said she didn’t get to see Maas during her farewell in June 2019 but would stay in touch, follow Maas on social media and meet her for walks at Torrey Pines beach.
She said she’d never heard station brass talk about Laurel being part of a “new generation” of anchor talent — as Maas was told when she was let go. And Laurel testified that Maas had lost weight since leaving KUSI.
On cross examination, KUSI lawyer Marisa Janine-Page raised doubts about Laurel’s earlier testimony that she had never seen a KUSI employee handbook.
Fitzgerald noted that Laurel signed a contract that stipulated she had received and reviewed the policy handbook — and in her deposition said she was provided a copy.
In a brief redirect, Maas attorney Josh Pang said the deposition passage wasn’t read in its entirety.
It included the question: “Did you read any part of this (manual) at any time” while at the station?
Pang said Laurel answered, “I don’t think so.”
*An earlier version of this report gave the wrong station affiliation for Rory Devine.