CNN had previously reasoned that terminating Wilson was for purposes “in furtherance” of free speech because he was fired for alleged plagiarism, and the news company attempted to qualify as protected activity under the anti –SLAPP statute.
Plagiarism or Discrimination?
Wilson, “African – and Latino American”, was 51 years old in 2014 when CNN fired him. He had worked 18 years at CNN, but was only promoted once, in 2003. Wilson blamed Peter Janos, who was promoted to VP and bureau chief and Wilson’s supervisor in 2004, who “demonstrated that he never liked [Wilson] and never wanted him at the bureau because of [Wilson's] protected characteristics, including his race, color, and ancestry, among other things,” according to court documents.
Then Wilson was accused of plagiarizing three sentences from the Los Angeles Times and he was terminated by Janos in 2014. But Wilson filed a complaint, claiming he was fired because of his race, age and the prior discrimination complaints he made. In his lawsuit he claimed emotional distress, anxiety and depression and sought $5 million in damages.
According to the appellate record, CNN provided an email from the copy editor who raised concerns about a story Wilson wrote regarding Sheriff Lee Baca's retirement. The first sentence in question was “who spent 48 years with the department, including 15 as sheriff”; the Times article had identical text, minus the comma.
The second segment in Wilson’s article stated, “The news of Baca's decision to step down startled people inside and outside the agency. He was engaged in a tough re-election battle amid several scandals that had plagued the department.” The Times article stated, “The news of Baca's decision to step down stunned people inside and outside the agency. He was locked in a tough reelection battle amid several scandals that had beset the department.”
In the third questionable sentence Wilson wrote, “Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice also accused sheriff's deputies of engaging in widespread unlawful searches of homes, improper detentions, unreasonable force and a systematic effort to discriminate against African Americans who received low-income, subsidized housing in the Antelope Valley section of Los Angeles.” The Times article stated, “Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice accused sheriff's deputies of engaging in widespread unlawful searches of homes, improper detentions and unreasonable force as Antelope Valley authorities conducted a systematic effort to discriminate against African Americans who received low-income subsidized housing.”
Wilson’s complaint alleges employment discrimination on the basis of age, race, color, ancestry, and association with a person with a disability, through the acts of “denial of promotions, assignment to menial tasks, refusal to investigate discrimination and retaliation, failure to remedy or prevent discrimination and retaliation, termination, and defamation.” He also filed a retaliation complaint for protected activities such as taking paternity leave and complaining about CNNs discriminatory conduct.
READ MORE CALIFORNIA LABOR LAW LEGAL NEWS
According to the Media Law Research Center, the scope of these anti-SLAPP statutes vary by state and as of January 2019, the California statute provides the broadest range of protection.
In California, Turk says that in order to prevail, the defendant must show that its speech or conduct fits within one of the categories spelled out in the statute. If it does, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that he can show a probability of prevailing on the merits. If the defendant is successful in striking some or all of plaintiff’s claims, defendant will be entitled to collect its reasonable attorney’s fees.