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Craft Loses Jury Award In Appeal

June 29, 1985|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

"What a bummer," ex-anchorwoman Christine Craft said Friday after a federal appeals court in St. Louis, Mo., overturned a $325,000 jury award to her. She had contended that a TV station in Kansas City, Mo. demoted her because her bosses didn't like her on-air appearance.

"We're told so often can you be judged by a jury of your peers. . . . I'll take a jury anytime," said Craft, who has twice won federal jury verdicts in her much-publicized lawsuit against KMBC-TV, only to suffer reverses when the defendants appealed.

The three-judge appellate court unanimously overturned a jury's 1984 award of $225,000 in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages to Craft and also denied her a new trial on her sex discrimination claim against KMBC.

The money had been awarded on her charge that the station's management made fraudulent promises when it recruited her from station KEY-TV in Santa Barbara to co-anchor KMBC's 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts in 1981.

Speaking by phone from her home in Santa Barbara, Craft said that she was "shocked and appalled" by the ruling in favor of Metromedia Inc., the owner of KMBC when she filed her suit. The station was purchased in 1982 by Hearst Inc., which is not a defendant in the case.

Craft, 40, was removed from her anchor post in August, 1981, after nine months on the job. She declined KMBC's offer of a job as a street reporter and later sued Metromedia, alleging that KMBC's then-news director told her that research indicated that viewers found her "too old, too unattractive and not deferential enough to men."

The news director, Ridge Shannon, denied in court that he had said that.

"I'm delighted, obviously," Donald Giffin, Metromedia's lawyer in the case, said by phone Friday when asked for comment about the appellate court's ruling.

Craft said that her lawyer, Dennis Egan, will ask for a rehearing by the full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Should Egan's request be denied, and "if I can raise the money, I'll appeal to the Supreme Court," she said.

"I'm not a quitter," she added, her tone upbeat despite the bad news she got Friday morning. "I don't think that because I'm a woman I have be to a second-class citizen."

In the first trial of the case, a U.S. District Court jury in Kansas City concluded in 1983 that Craft had been fraudulently misled by KMBC officials and awarded her $500,000 (which she had wanted reinstated when her case was retried). The jury rejected her allegation of equal-pay violations, but recommended--in an advisory verdict to the judge--that he rule in her favor on her sex-discrimination claim.

The judge, Joseph E. Stevens Jr., later overturned the fraud verdict, ruled against her discrimination claim and let stand the jury verdict on equal pay. He ordered a second trial on the fraud claim before a sequestered jury in Joplin, Mo.

During the second trial of her case on the fraud issue, Craft contended that station officials told her that if she joined KMBC, she would not be required to undergo a cosmetic and dress makeover to appeal to audiences. But she was forced to do both, she said.

To support herself during all this, Craft said, she has been lecturing and also has appeared four times on "Santa Barbara," the NBC soap opera. There, she said, chuckling slightly, "I played a newscaster ."

She said that the acting experience had been fun and that she'd do it again if asked: "It's dreary being a Joan of Arc."

Asked about working again as a television news reporter, she said that "Everyone tells me I've been black-balled," although she later added, "I'm not saying that I've been black-balled."

"My main concern now is how I pay the July rent," she said. Craft said she hopes to work in news for a television station where the first priority is not looks, but "getting the stories and getting them right."

She said she applied several weeks ago to NBC-owned KNBC Channel 4 in Burbank for work as a summer relief reporter, and while she had yet not heard back from officials there, "they were very nice to me and seemed to think it wasn't impossible."

She also said she intends to apply for a news job at KPIX-TV in San Francisco, where she said she had worked in 1977.

Craft also has been writing a book about her experiences at KMBC, and had been waiting for the appellate court's ruling in her case to complete the book's last chapter. The book's title, she said, is "Once More, Without Feeling."

The ruling in her case came a day after CBS Inc. and Elissa Dorfsman, a former executive at CBS-owned WCAU-FM in Philadelphia, reached an out-of-court settlement on Dorfsman's $1-million suit against CBS. In that suit, Dorfsman made numerous charges against CBS, including sexual harassment. The charges all stemmed from an incident at a company sales dinner in 1982.

In a second case involving allegations of sexual harassment in broadcasting, jury selection was completed Friday in Washington in a $10-million lawsuit brought against ABC by Cecily Coleman, director of the network's advisory committee on voter education until being dismissed in 1984.

ABC, which declines to discuss Coleman's federal court case with reporters, has in pre-trial briefs denied her allegations. Testimony in the case is scheduled to begin on Monday.

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