07 Feb Jury: One America News Network parent company to pay $810K …
The parent company of One America News Network was ordered by a San Diego jury Thursday to pay $810,000 in punitive damages to an African-American man fired from his job as a producer after lodging a complaint that he’d been harassed because of his race.
The jury’s decision came two days after the same panel awarded the ex-employee, Jonathan Harris, nearly $290,000 in damages, the bulk of it for non-economic losses including pain and suffering. In making that decision Monday, the jury found that Harris was not harassed or discriminated against because of his race, but that his complaint about race-based harassment or discrimination helped motivate his firing.
The jury reconvened Wednesday afternoon to discuss punitive damages, and reached its verdict Thursday morning.
In total, the jury’s award to Harris tallies in at just under $1.1 million.
Harris’ attorney, Rodney Diggs, said his client was grateful to the jury and”very happy that the jury was able to see his point of view.”
“The $810,000 in punitive damages is a clear message that the city of San Diego will not tolerate treating it’s employees the way Herring Networks treated Mr. Harris,” Diggs said.
Attorney Patrick Nellies, who represented Herring Networks and the individual defendants, said that he and his clients appreciate “the jury’s time and efforts in this case and their careful and thoughtful deliberations.”
“While we respect the verdict they reached, we believe there are numerous appeal-able issues that we intend to explore,” Nellies said.
One America News Network, a small, family-owned cable channel based in San Diego, has gained national prominence in recent years. President Donald Trump has lauded it. Critics have questioned its journalistic standards.
Harris sued in 2018, alleging he was harassed at work based on his race as well as his liberal political views, which clashed with the cable channel’s conservative bent.
Harris’s lawsuit targeted the network’s parent company, Herring Network Inc., as well as CEO Robert Herring Sr., who founded One America News. He also sued Graham Ledger, the host of the ultra-conservative “The Daily Ledger” talk show that Harris helped produce.
Aside from Monday’s finding that Harris’ complaint alleging racial discrimination helped motivate his firing, the jury also found that the network failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment, or discrimination, or retaliation. That failure, the jury decided Monday, was a substantial factor that caused harm to Harris.
At the start of trial, Harris’ lawyers said their client had been subjected to demeaning and berating comments by Ledger during team meetings, on account of his liberal views and his perspectives as an African-American man.
The simmering tension erupted in August 2017, during a dispute over a segment about the removal of certain Confederate monuments. Afterward, Harris filed an official racial discrimination complaint to Herring Sr.
The next day, Harris was offered a position in another part of the company.
Harris agreed to the move and cleaned up his work station in “The Daily Ledger” area, including deleting computer files that Harris said were no longer needed, such as old show notes.
Someone complained about the deletion. Herring Sr. confronted Harris.
Herring Sr. testified that he and Harris scuffled over Harris’ computer. Harris was then fired.
According to management, Harris violated policy by deleting the files. According to Harris, it was an excuse to get rid of him.
According to Harris’ Facebook page, he became a columnist in 2009, writing about topics including politics, entertainment and technology. In 2013, the San Diego native became an on-air political commentator and analyst, offering a liberal counterpoint to conservative views on news and talk shows. He has appeared on The Hill, Fox News and RT America.
Staff writer Kristina Davis contributed to this report.
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