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Allen Denton and Sandra Maas were co-anchors of the KUSI nightly news. But she learned he was paid $70,000 more than her in 2018-2019.
Allen Denton and Sandra Maas were co-anchors of the KUSI nightly news — but weren’t paid the same. Image via court records

Forty-three months after filing suit against the owners of KUSI-TV, former anchor Sandra Maas is less than two weeks away from a trial in her pay equity and sex- and age-bias case.

Trial order in Sandra Maas suit against KUSI owners. (PDF)

On Friday, Judge Ronald Frazier issued an “advance trial review order” in the case launched in June 2019.

Josh Gruenberg, Maas’ lead attorney, says he expects the downtown Superior Court trial to last two weeks.

“Cases still come to trial in this city,” Gruenberg said in a phone interview. “Sometimes it takes a long time. But the windy road does end at the courthouse at some point. … We are ready to get the case to a jury.”

The key issue is whether McKinnon Broadcasting Co. broke state law on equal pay for equal work.

Eleven days after a surprise farewell on KUSI’s 10 p.m. newscast, Maas sued KUSI’s owner for $10 million — an amount no longer specified. She alleged her contract wasn’t renewed because she sought the same salary as her recently retired co-anchor, Allen Denton.

In her final year, Maas made $180,000. That was a $20,000 raise from her previous salary — but still $70,000 less than Denton’s final salary of about $250,000.

KUSI president and general manager Michael D. McKinnon Jr., news director Steve Cohen and Human Resources director Sally Luck implied in depositions that Maas didn’t deserve the same pay as Denton.

Court filings by KUSI attorneys also say Maas’ salary should be compared with other male anchors at the station.

In an effort to kill the case, KUSI in July depicted Maas as disgruntled and derelict in the years before she left the station. Judge Frazier rejected those arguments in KUSI’s summary judgment motion.

In a two-page ruling last October, Frazier said Maas had a prima facie case that KUSI failed to provide equal pay.

Maas, 60, will take the witness stand in the case, said Gruenberg, who plans to make an opening statement and handle jury selection but leave other chores to co-counsels Josh Pang and Pamela Vallero.

Sandra Maas (left) is represented by Josh Gruenwald, Pamela Vallero and Josh Pang. Photo by Ken Stone

San Diego “super lawyer” Kenneth Moore Fitzgerald recently joined the KUSI legal team, but on Friday the judge rejected Fitzgerald’s attempt to delay the trial further.

“We have had many delays,” Gruenberg said, “and KUSI has known about this trial date for months. And we are happy that the court did not continue the trial.”

KUSI execs and lawyers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fitzgerald boasts in his bio of successfully prosecuting and defended copyright, trademark, trade dress, trade secret and false advertising/unfair competition actions for many clients.

“He has represented the National Football League, AOL, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Barratt Developments, CIBC, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, DirecTV, Fluor, Hughes Network Systems, Gateway, Hilton, Hyatt, Hydranautics, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, Montrose Chemical, Neiman-Marcus, Nintendo, Oracle, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Reebok, Reed Elsevier, Relational Investors, Safeway, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, Societe Generale, Sony Electronics, Teledyne, Themis Bar Review, United Technologies, Viasat and others,” the bio says.

But perhaps his most interesting case was going to bat for Ted Giannoulas, the former KGB Chicken (aka The Famous Chicken) of Padres game fame.

In 1998, a federal judge in Texas tossed out a copyright infringement suit by the Dallas firm that licenses Barney (the purple dinosaur of kids TV).

Judge John McBryde ruled that the Famous San Diego Chicken “can continue performing a skit in which he mocks and slaps around an ersatz Barney, the purple dinosaur familiar to just about anyone who’s had a waking moment during the past decade,” said a Los Angeles Times account.

Giannoulas had the right to taunt a Barney look-alike during ballpark performances in the name of parody, the judge ruled.

“Victory is super de duper!” Said Giannoulas, borrowing a Barney catch phrase.

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Ellen Bullock