LOS ANGELES — A former CNN
employee has new life in seeking claims of alleged bias and
discrimination against the media juggernaut after a recent ruling by
the California Court of Appeal.
In a divided decision,
according to www.bna.com, the court
ruled on Dec. 13 that CNN could not dismiss fired writer and producer
Stanley Wilson's case alleging racial bias against the network, court
documents show. Wilson, a black man, originally sued CNN after being
fired for allegedly plagiarizing parts of a news piece that never
At the center of this case are Strategic Lawsuits
Against Public Participation, or SLAPP laws. These laws exist to
provide extra protections for First Amendment activities. According
to California anti-SLAPP laws, a case may be dismissed if a party's
right to validly express free speech is infringed upon.
that's exactly what happened the first time Wilson tried suing CNN,
as the network argued that allowing Wilson's claims to proceed would
affect it's First Amendment rights to defend against plagiarism. The
Superior Court upheld that motion.
But the Court of Appeal
begged to differ, saying that CNN had not fully satisfied the
anti-SLAPP law. The case, according to the law's text, must show that
a plaintiff's claim "arises in an act of furtherance" of an
employer's free-speech rights in connection to public interest or
The majority opinion, written by justices Elwood
Lui and Victoria Chaney, said that the alleged discrimination against
Wilson did not count as acts furthering CNN's free-speech rights. In
short, it was decided that media companies have no right to invoke
anti-SLAPP statutes against employees who claim discrimination that
are in news-gathering or writing positions.
expert, attorney and University of San Diego School of Law guest
lecturer James Moneer said this interpretation of anti-SLAPP statutes
"The majority justices, I can tell they're
new," Moneer told The Northern California Record. "They
either don't understand SLAPP or they're part of the camp of
appellate courts that are trying to, I believe, reach a result ...
and sort of just try to justify it later on."
Justice Frances Rothschild wrote in her dissenting opinion that the
network was correct in applying the anti-SLAPP statutes against
Wilson, because his job as a writer and producer of the news connects
him to public interest. For purposes of the anti-SLAPP statutes,
Rothschild said that Wilson's role at the company did indeed count as
acts in furtherance of CNN's free-speech rights, as the network
expresses free speech when reporting the news and Wilson's job was to
help with that.
Furthermore, Rothschild wrote
that Wilson's discrimination claim and anti-SLAPP lawsuit are not one
in the same, but different items. Moneer said that is the correct
interpretation of the situation.
"The first thing
that the majority got wrong was it (the anti-SLAPP statute) is not an
immunity defense, it's not an affirmative defense," Moneer said.
"It doesn't bar a cause of action."
divided court's opinion is representative of a long-standing split on
interpreting public interest in a narrow or broad lens, according to
Horitz and Levy partner and SLAPP law expert Jeremy Rosen.
think this case is right for review by the supreme court to resolve
that split," Rosen told The Northern California Record.
"Because if the Supreme Court doesn't, then courts of appeal are
going to continue to go in completely different directions and not
give consistent guidance to the lower courts and litigants."
That definition of what constitutes public interest is
what this case is riding on, according to Moneer.
see the attorneys representing the media defendants ... they
typically do a good job of getting these cases before the California
Supreme Court and resolving these conflicts in favor of a broad,
plain-language interpretation," Moneer said. "And that's
really what's at stake here."