LOS ANGELES (CN) – Veteran journalist Frank Snepp testified on Tuesday that he was “devastated” when the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles fired him as producer and investigative reporter in 2012, and that he hasn’t worked since.
“If you’re in the news business, you’re not supposed to show emotion. In fact, I don’t like it in the news business,” Snepp said, addressing the jury directly. “I was devastated. I felt as though I was being treated like a loser. I didn’t know how I was going to take care of my nine-year-old daughter.”
Snepp is seeking $1.3 million in economic damages in addition to emotional distress damages and punitive damages for wrongful termination as an investigative producer and reporter at NBC affiliate KNBC-TV, or NBC 4, when he was 69 years old.
The journalist sued NBCUniversal Media and its Los Angeles affiliate last year, claiming he lost his job after he made multiple complaints about age discrimination and ageism to executives at the station.
Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2009, and Snepp said he noticed that the philosophy of the station changed around that time as the struggling station rebranded to appeal to a more youthful audience.
The Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist, now 72, began his testimony Monday afternoon in a trial that began Nov. 23 before Superior Court Judge Stephen Moloney and is expected to conclude next week.
In video deposition played to the court on Monday, news director Todd Mokhtari explained why the station fired Snepp, who worked there from 2005 until he was fired in October 2012.
“Plaintiff had created his own job,” Mokhtari said, adding that Snepp conducted his own investigations outside of KNBC’s investigative unit “and turned very few stories.”
Mokhtari, who said he had been brought in from KIRO-TV in Seattle to make the station more competitive, said Snepp was “reluctant to take feedback on script approval” which “delayed getting stories on the air.”
Snepp testified that he had worked closely with Mokhtari in the weeks up to his firing to finish an investigative report about a suspected Chromium 6 contamination at Disney Studios, only to find that Mokhtari was present at an Oct. 1, 2012 meeting to fire him.
Snepp said he met with Mokhtari and general manager Steve Carlston after the story about the contamination at Disney was supposed to air.
“Mr. Carlston said that my job was being eliminated,” Snepp said, adding that the decision “didn’t make sense” because there were still content producers working at the station.
His complaint alleges that he was replaced by a producer under the age of 40.
“They offered 45 grand and they wanted me to sign a nondisclosure agreement not to talk about NBC,” Snepp said.
Snepp said of Mokhtari: “He really looked a little embarrassed. He looked away from me.” The journalist said that when he asked him about the Disney story, Mokhtari had called it a “bum’s rush.”
In what appeared to be series of friendly email exchanges shown to the court, Mokhtari had told Snepp the story was “on hold” and “tied up with lawyers.”
Snepp noted that the story never aired.
The journalist says he never refused an assignment and worked nights, weekends, on vacation, and was never given any quota on the number of stories he should be producing.
He told the court that he was at his most productive working outside the newsroom, talking with sources and developing or producing stories in the field, but also worked in the newsroom and at home.
Snepp said that in the years leading to his firing he had butted heads with Mokhtari’s predecessors Steve Lange and Vickie Burns.
Snepp said that Lange was “inaccessible” and appeared to favor younger employees. The journalist said that in May 2010 he took his complaints to NBCUniversal human resources executive Dave Crossen.
“I indicated that I felt that I was being marginalized, put out to pasture and being set up for failure by Steve Lange,” Snepp said.
That same month, the station announced that it was parting ways with Lange. His replacement, news director Vickie Burns, suffered a similar fate when she came to the station in the summer of 2010 – departing less than two years later.
“It was complicated,” Snepp said of his relationship with Burns. “Miss Burns tended to give mixed signals as to what she wanted done. At least, they seemed mixed to me.”
Snepp, who appeared to be reveling in his time on the stand and made a point of talking directly to jurors, said Burns had made comments about his age in a May or June 2011 staff meeting.
“She came up to me and said, ‘There are lot of people in here and around who think you are just a grumpy old man and you should get out of here,'” Snepp said.
Things boiled over after Snepp created a four-part series about security problems and terrorist threats at LAX, he testified. Burns had praised the first three parts of the series but in a chain of emails shown to the court, appeared to criticize Snepp’s work as a content producer.
Snepp wrote back that he was “saddened” by the response and said that he found the email “dismissive,” and Burns’ “negative concentration” on his LAX story “perplexing.”
In March 2012, Snepp said he went to Crossen after Burns allegedly suggested that he resign and retire. Burns left the station shortly thereafter.
Snepp had produced a two-part report about the death of toddler Lucas Tang, who died after falling 23 feet from a luxury suite at the Staples Center. The report sparked a lawsuit from center owner AEG that named Snepp and NBC as defendants.
“I expressed my concern that the AEG lawsuit, the Staples lawsuit, would be dismissed, and they would just get rid of me,” Snepp said of his meeting with Crossen.
Snepp told his attorney Suzelle Smith with Howarth & Smith he has since tried to get paid work in the news business but that at 70 “you don’t have many second chances.” If NBC had not fired him, “I’d still be there doing great stories,” Snepp said.
NBC’s attorney Bart William of Munger, Tolles began his cross-examination shortly before recess. Snepp is scheduled to continue his testimony on Wednesday morning.
Former NBC Los Angeles anchor Paul Moyer will also testify this week. Moyer was forced out of the station in 2009 after 25 years, according to court records.
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