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Quote of the Day - My agent said, 'You aren't good enough for movies.' I said, 'You're fired.' - Sally Field
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Entertainment Law Crosses With Labor Law: Court Rules Contract Non-renewal Race-free, Legitimate Employment Decision

When a former employee sues an employer for firing due to race discrimination, the legal burden shifts from the former employee to the employer to establish a prima facie reason for firing the employee for a legitimate, non-race based reason.  Then, if the employer can establish the legitimate reason, the burden shifts back to the employee to disprove the employer's apparently legitimate reason.

While that's a mouthful, look at it this way:  first the employer shows the judge the employee got fired because the employee couldn't do the job.  Then the employee has to show the judge the real reason is race. 

Let's add an overlay to this legal framework.  We have a white evening news anchor at a TV station in San Jose/Oakland/San Francisco, among a number of other on-air talent and off-air managers.  NBC came in and bought the station and hired a new manager to shake things up.

In the entertainment industry, "shaking things up" is a euphemism for firing almost everyone in sight and bringing in an almost entirely new team, generally for a TV station only retaining the upper, mid-level management and some of the more popular on-air reporters, but typically not the anchors. 

That's pretty much what happened at KNTV when NBC brought in James Sanders as vice president of news.  Ultimately, Sanders decided not to renew the expired contract of Anchor Brad Hicks

Note I said "not renew."  Let me add two more facts:  Brad Hicks is white, and the anchor who replaced Mr. Hicks is African-American, T.J. Holmes, now at CNN. 

Here are the Court's rulings on those two facts:  First, "where the plaintiff does not belong to a racial minority or other traditionally protected class, no universally accepted statement of the standard for establishing a prima facie case exists.  There is currently a split among the federal courts that have taken a position on this issue.  Five circuits apply an increased burden upon a White plaintiff, requiring a showing of 'additional background circumstances' to support the suspicion of discriminatory intent. "

Second, "Plaintiff alleged that defendants' decision not to retain him was motivated by the desire to place an African-American in the 5:00 p.m. anchor position.  In their moving papers defendants produced evidence to show that Sanders's reason for refusing to negotiate a new contract with plaintiff was unrelated to his race.  According to defendants, plaintiff did not project the style or personality Sanders wanted in a KNTV news anchor."

The Court accepted the TV station's reason, and didn't believe the Hicks was able to overcome their reason by showing a discriminatory intent.  The Court ruled the station hired and fired others without regard to race. 

Sanders' techniques at the station worked.  The station received 28 Emmy nominations in 2005.   You can check out Brad Hicks' blog, as well.  He too won NBC News, the U.S. Coast Guard, and The National Water Safety Congress, as well as multiple Emmy Awards, and awards from the Associated Press.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, March 05, 2008 at 23:26 Comments Closed (0) |
 
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