In a move that mirrors the strategy of former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson in her lawsuit against Roger Ailes, a female television news anchor in Los Angeles has defied her employer's mandatory arbitration agreement and taken her sexual harassment case directly to court. And, like Carlson, she's proceeding in her litigation with audio recordings of her alleged harasser.
Unlike Carlson's case, though, this one -- filed two weeks before the explosive July 6 lawsuit against Ailes -- has for months gone largely unnoticed.
Karla Amezola, an award-winning anchor at Los Angeles-based Estrella TV, filed a complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court on June 23 against Estrella parent Liberman Broadcasting, Inc. and its vice president for News, Andres Angulo. Most of Amezola's allegations of sexual harassment against the privately held Spanish-language network -- which include repeated requests by Angulo to have sex -- can't be printed here.
But those recordings might be heard by a jury one day if she prevails in her fight to bypass arbitration.
Companies increasingly force employees to give up their right to go to court in the event of a dispute before they can get the job. But plaintiffs' lawyers have learned that it is worth fighting those agreements when there's damaging evidence that can invite public scorn and productive settlement talks.
An example of those dynamics was at play when Carlson's allegations become public. Fox initially played hardball with her for having flouted the mandatory arbitration agreement she'd signed, accusing her in court papers of trying to "coerce" Ailes to settle.
But after the ugly behavior she described inspired more than a dozen women to speak up and say they'd also been harassed by Ailes, the pressure rose for Fox. On Sept. 6, a settlement was announced and Carlson received $20 million and a rare public apology. Lest you shed a tear for Ailes, he already had walked off with twice that in severance pay.
No small contributor to Carlson's success was that she had recorded some of Ailes's seamy comments, according to news reports. And Amezola has her hands on tapes, too. Her Los Angeles lawyers, Jonathan J. Delshad and Elie Ghodsi, would not allow me to listen to the recordings. But they said in a written response to my questions that they'd informed the company "months ago that Karla has audio tapes of comments by Mr. Angulo."
Unlike New York State, where Carlson could legally record Ailes without his permission, Amezola recorded Angula in California, a so-called "two-party state" where both parties to a conversation must agree to be recorded. Cliff Palefsky, a San Francisco employment lawyer, says the California penal code allows exceptions to that when there is evidence of extortion, and that the demands of sex in return for keeping a job might meet that standard.
In the meantime, though, "Mr. Angulo is not permitting Karla to disclose the contents of the tapes," Delshad said.
According to Amezola's first amended complaint, the network allegedly removed the 30-year-old woman from her coveted 5 p.m. anchor spot after she told the human resources department about Angulo's "disgusting acts of sexual harassment."
Among her allegations were that he called her into his office one day and, while stroking his erect penis, asked her "to turn around so that he could see her rear end."
Another allegation: "When Ms. Amezola asked Mr. Angulo for a raise, Mr. Angulo responded that he would be able to get her a raise so that she could rent an apartment but that he would require a copy of the key to her apartment. From that point on, Ms. Amezola would not ask for a raise since she was afraid and disgusted by the anticipated harassment from Mr. Angulo." The two have never had a physical relationship, according to the complaint.