KTLA and parent company Tribune Media cannot force technology journalist Kurt Knutsson, known as “CyberGuy,” into private arbitration rather than open court as a way to resolve his right of publicity and age discrimination claims against the station, an appellate court ruled on Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of California’s Court of Appeal concluded that KTLA and Tribune had “forfeited” their right to compel Knutsson into a grievance process that may have led to private arbitration. That means that Knutsson can have his case heard in open court, unless the station wins on further appeal.
Knutsson sued KTLA, Tribune and other stations in 2013, claiming age discrimination, misappropriation of name and likeness, breach of contract and unfair business practices/unfair competition.
His suit contended that after signing a five-year agreement in 2008, KTLA informed him at the end of 2010 that it wanted to terminate the contract on March 31, 2011. According to his complaint, Knutsson believed that he would continue as a technology reporter if he agreed to take less money.
But on Feb. 14, 2011, Knutsson was told that it would be his last day on the air and he would not return to the station. News director Jason Ball also told him that the other local stations that carried his segments would be notified of his departure.
The next day, his lawsuit claimed, a younger reporter, Rich DeMuro, was doing reports on consumer technology in the same studio and format, and KTLA and other stations continued to feature CyberGuy and Kurt the CyberGuy on their websites. A user searching for CyberGuy online instead would be led to DeMuro’s reports, in what Knutsson claims was done by manipulating content descriptions.
His suit also claimed that KTLA and Tribune failed to pay his company a share of advertising revenue, a term of the 2008 contract, and that they did not have ownership of the CyberGuy brand. In his age discrimination claim, Knutsson contended that even though he was never given a negative performance review or any indication his employment was in jeopardy, he was replaced by DeMuro, “a significantly younger person who was less experienced and less qualified.” He claimed that KTLA had a “pattern and practice of discriminating against older employees, especially on-air talent.”
A spokesman for Tribune Media said they had no comment.
The appellate judges concluded that even though there is an arbitration clause in the AFTRA collective bargaining agreement, KTLA could only compel the union to arbitrate, not the rank and file. The station “has cited no common law developed by the federal courts that creates a duty by an employee under these circumstances to arbitrate a dispute,” they said in the published opinion.