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Reporter’s Suit Against|NBC Ends in a Mistrial

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A California state court judge has declared a mistrial in veteran journalist Frank Snepp's age discrimination suit against NBC, as a jury remained deadlocked after days of deliberations.

Snepp sued NBCUniversal Media and its Los Angeles affiliate KNBC-TV last year, claiming that news director Todd Mokhtari and general manager Steve Carlston abruptly fired him in October 2012 after he had complained about age discrimination and ageism to executives.

The trial began Nov. 23 before LA Superior Court Judge Stephen Moloney, and went to the jury of six men and six women on Dec. 18.

But after three full days of deliberations and with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, Moloney declared a mistrial. A new trial date has not been set.

"While we believe the majority voted for Frank Snepp, we didn't quite get to the magic number of 9 out of 12 jurors needed to reach a verdict," Snepp's attorney Suzelle Smith of Howarth & Smith said. "We look forward to trying the case again as soon as possible. During trial due in part to the press coverage we have learned even more about NBC's discriminatory conduct towards its older employees. Mr. Snepp and his legal team are committed to seeing justice done no matter how long it takes."

After he was hired in 2006, Snepp - a former CIA operative - won three Emmys, a Los Angeles Press Club and a Peabody Award for his investigative reporting at the station.

Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2009, and Snepp said the philosophy of the station changed around that time as it rebranded to appeal to a more youthful audience and address plummeting audience figures.

Along with the rebrand, reporters were given new job titles as "content producers," told to take a more hands-on approach during production and write more stories, the jury heard.

NBC attorney Bart Williams, of Munger Tolles, told the jury there was no evidence that the station had discriminated against Snepp.

Instead, Williams said the evidence showed that Snepp lost his job because he refused to do assigned production tasks and dared executives to fire him. The journalist was a drag on other employees because he had not brushed up on the skills he needed to operate the newsroom editing system, Dalet, the attorney added.

Snepp had also worked on HBO movie scripts, television pitches and other side projects while working at NBC, Williams said, including a script based on his book "Irreparable Harm" - an account of his legal battles after writing an insider account of his time in the CIA during the Vietnam War.

Williams added that Snepp had violated NBC's policies and guidelines on conflicts of interests by dating a confidential Disney source, Eileen McNulty, while he was working on an investigative report about a suspected Chromium 6 contamination at the studio.

Snepp also threatened an investigation of a spa where his girlfriend at that time had been hurt, Williams said.

"Based on the evidence that you have heard in this case, Mr. Snepp and his lawsuit have to be brought in line with the real world," Williams told the jury.

Snepp's attorneys told the jury that bringing up the journalist's "whole dating history" and movie projects were "red herrings" designed to hide the culture of age discrimination at the station.

"NBC played hide the ball with you, the same way they did with Mr. Snepp when they terminated him," Snepp attorney Ames Smith said, urging the jury to award his client almost $5.5 million in damages.

The station fired Snepp in 2012. Snepp told the jury he was "devastated" when NBC fired him from his $120,000-a-year position as and that he wanted to stay at the station until he retired.

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