CNN, the Cable News Network, must face a claim of job discrimination by an 18-year veteran African-American producer who was denied a White House job in favor of a younger white candidate with less experience, a California state appeals court ruled Friday.
The Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles rejected, on a 2-1 vote, CNN’s claim that this case hampered the network’s free speech rights and should be dismissed under the state’s anti-SLAPP law.
“This is a private employment discrimination and retaliation case, not an action designed to prevent defendants from exercising their First Amendment rights,” Justice Elwood Lui wrote. “Defendants may have a legitimate defense but the merits of that defense should be resolved through the normal litigation process,” Lui said.
Stanley Wilson, an award-winning CNN producer since 1996, filed his complaint in 2014 when he was 51 years old. He is African-American and Latino.
Although he had good job reviews and has won awards for journalism, Wilson faced a new western regional bureau chief starting in 2004 who disliked him. Wilson never got another promotion. He sought an opening as a White House producer but was not endorsed by his bureau chief and the job went to a younger white candidate with less experience, according to the court.
In 2014, the bureau chief fired Wilson over a dispute about the originality of language in a story about the Los Angeles sheriff’s retirement. Wilson sued saying he was unable to get a new job in the industry as a result.
CNN filed a motion to have the case thrown out under the anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. They are generally brought to silence news outlets, whistleblowers or social critics from suing by bringing expensive lawsuits designed to intimidate.
California passed an “anti-SLAPP” law that allows those who face these intimidation lawsuits to get them thrown out on short notice by showing that the lawsuit is intended as an effort to silence a critic.
CNN filed an anti-SLAPP motion against Wilson to get his case tossed. The trial court agreed and Wilson appealed. The appeals court rejected CNN’s claim and reinstated Wilson’s lawsuit, sending it back to the trial court.
Case: Wilson v. Cable News Network, No. B264944