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California Supreme Court will Clarify Whether the Termination of a News Media Producer by a News Outlet Constitutes the Exercise of Free Speech

SUMMARY: The Plaintiff is a 51-year-old African-and Latino-American who worked for CNN for 18 years, 16 of them as a producer.  A new Western bureau chief refused to promote him, and ultimately fired him, largely because he believed that Plaintiff had plagiarized passages of a story he produced.  The Plaintiff sued CNN for discrimination based on age, race, color, ancestry and association with a person with a disability, and defamation, among other claims.  CNN filed a special motion to strike the Complaint (which, if successful, would end the case) called an “Anti-SLAPP” motion.  CNN based the Anti-SLAPP motion on its right to free speech in connection with a public issue.  CNN argued that, as a news provider, all of its decisions regarding the Plaintiff involved “editorial discretion” making them “inextricably linked with the content of the news [and] that the decisions themselves” were acts involving CNN’s right of free speech and connected with matters “of public interest.”  The trial court agreed.  The first reviewing court, the Court of Appeal, disagreed. 


QUESTION FOR THE SUPREME COURT: The Supreme Court wants to determine the interplay between CNN’s free speech rights and Plaintiff’s right to work free from discrimination and defamation (among other things).  In other words, is this a private employment discrimination and retaliation case, or an action designed to prevent CNN from exercising its First Amendment rights?  The Supreme Court’s decision will have an impact on personnel decisions by news and media organizations.  Wilson v. CNN.

Please contact Phillip Maltin for further information about these cases pending before the California Supreme Court.