Sandra Maas (left) after Friday hearing in San Diego Superior Court. Her lawyers (from left) are Josh Gruenwald, Pamela Vallero and Josh Pang
Sandra Maas (left) after Friday hearing in Superior Court. Her lawyers (from left) are Josh Gruenberg, Pamela Vallero and Joshua Pang. Photo by Ken Stone

KUSI and its former news anchor Sandra Maas are headed for a potentially nasty December trial in her pay-equity and discrimination lawsuit in the wake of a judge’s ruling Monday.

Judge Ronald Frazier ruling on KUSI summary judgment motions. (PDF)

Judge Ronald Frazier in downtown Superior Court confirmed his tentative ruling — rejecting McKinnon Broadcasting Co.’s effort to have the case killed via summary judgment.

Minutes after a hearing Friday, Maas was asked whether KUSI’s motion was an attempt to smear her.

“Yes,” Maas told a reporter as she and her lawyers walked east on Broadway in front of the Hall of Justice.

On Monday, Maas attorney Josh Pang agreed, saying KUSI will make similar attacks at what he expects to be a two-week trial.

“We’ll address them at trial,” he said.

KUSI’s summary judgment motion in July depicted Maas as disgruntled and derelict in the years before she left the station in June 2019 — her contract not renewed. During that time, she had learned she was being paid as much as $80,000 a year less than her prime-time co-anchor, Allen Denton.

Her July 2019 lawsuit against MBC, the operator of KUSI News, also alleged age and gender discrimination and illegal retaliation.

On Monday, Judge Frazier rejected MBC’s arguments that Maas, 59, couldn’t use Denton’s $250,000-a-year final salary alone for determining a male “comparator.”

He said in his two-page ruling that Maas had a prima facie case that KUSI failed to provide equal pay. Frazier said the same about her claims she was retaliated against for seeking equal pay.

“The Court finds [KUSI] has not met its initial burden of production as to whether the pay inequity was for legitimate business reasons unrelated to gender,” he wrote.

On the age- and sex-discrimination claims, Frazier found “material issues of triable fact” on whether KUSI had legitimate reasons for its actions.

In other words, let a jury decide if KUSI violated the state’s Equal Pay Act other laws.

At Friday’s hearing, attorneys Marisa Janine-Page and Caitlin E. Macker represented KUSI and Gruenberg Law attorney Pang addressed the court for Maas.

Janine-Page at one point was angered by Pang’s suggestion that KUSI violated an earlier court order to destroy or return all emails KUSI found on a private email account belonging to ex-anchor Anna Laurel.

She called Pang’s remarks “patently false and offensive.”

Janine-Page added: “I’m tired of the mudslinging…. We did not keep anything, your honor.”

She said the court record contained what she called abstracts of the emails she wanted Maas to turn over to KUSI. The judge denied a KUSI motion that Maas turn over 10 underlying private emails between her and Laurel.

(They were originally found on a newsroom computer that KUSI CFO Steven Sadler admitted reading on a shared newsroom laptop — even after Laurel left the station.)

KUSI lawyers and management didn’t respond to questions from Times of San Diego.

Neither has former anchor Denton, whose Facebook page indicates he lives in Panama City Beach, Florida, in the state’s panhandle south of Alabama.

It isn’t clear whether Denton would testify for Maas at a trial set to begin Dec. 2. (“Both sides will submit a witness list, among other things, to the judge” is all Maas attorney Pang would say.)

But a former KUSI colleague praised Maas on Monday in response to a Times of San Diego query.

“I have known Sandra Maas for close to 40 years and she is a class act,” John Soderman said via email. “In my opinion, she is showing a lot of courage in her fight against KUSI.”



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Ellen Bullock