An African-American man fired from his TV talk show producer job at One America News Network was not harassed on the basis of racial prejudice, but was fired in part because he lodged his complaint, a California jury found.
The San Diego Superior Court jury on Monday, Feb. 4 awarded Jonathan Harris nearly $290,000 in damages, the Union-Tribune reported. The verdict followed roughly eight days of testimony and argument. Deliberations started last week. The bulk of the award was for non-economic losses including pain and suffering.
The panel will reconvene Wednesday to decide whether to award Harris punitive damages.
Harris’ lawsuit claimed he was harassed at work based on his race and because of his liberal political views, which clashed with OAN’s conservative bent, according to the newspaper.
The San Diego-based cable channel gained national prominence after President Donald Trump praised it, while critics have questioned its journalistic standards.
The lawsuit named Graham Ledger, the host of a talk show that Harris helped produce and Robert Herring Sr., OAN’s founder and the CEO of its parent company, Herring Networks Inc.
Jurors decided Harris was not harassed or discriminated against because of his race. However, they did conclude that he had complained about race-based harassment and discrimination, and that those complaints helped motivate his firing.
The jury also found that the network failed to “take all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment, or discrimination, or retaliation,” the Union-Tribune reported Tuesday.
In addition, the jury found that Ledger and the network engaged in “conduct with malice, oppression or fraud” toward Harris.
However, the attorney representing the defendants said that the jury had mistakenly answered that question on the jury form.
Attorney Patrick Nellies said that was because the panel — in an earlier question on the form — had already unanimously cleared the defendants, including Ledger, of harassing Harris on the basis of race.
Once they were cleared of that allegation, Nellies said, Ledger and Herring were no longer part of the lawsuit.
“Because Mr. Ledger had already been exonerated on the harassment claim, it was legally impossible for the jury to find that he acted with malice, fraud, or oppression,” Nellies said.
Harris’ attorney did not immediately respond to an email from the Union-Tribune for comment on the verdict.
Lawyers for Harris, according to The Union Tribune, argued that the incident was used as an excuse to get rid of him. Lawyers for Herring and Ledger argued that Harris had violated company policy by deleting company-owned work product, and that he’d underperformed as a producer.
Harris had asked for damages to compensate for emotional distress and mental suffering, as well as the cost of being unemployed and having to move to Washington, D.C., to take a job.
Harris currently works as a journalist and also appears as an on-air political commentator who offers a liberal counterpoint to conservative views on news and talk shows, appearing on The Hill, Fox News and RT America.
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