Television anchor Christine Craft, who charged that her former employer demoted her for being "too old, unattractive and not deferential enough to men," was awarded $500,000 in damages yesterday by a federal jury in Kansas City.
Craft sued Metromedia Inc., the former owner of KMBC-TV in Kansas City, for fraud after she was demoted in 1981. She asked for reinstatement as anchor, $200,000 in double back wages and $1 million in damages.
The federal jury of four women and two men awarded Craft $375,000 in actual damages and $125,000 in punitive damages.
The jury also recommended that U.S. District Court Judge Joseph E. Stevens Jr. find that Metromedia practiced sex discrimination in its treatment of Craft, 38. Under federal law, the judge must make the final determination on a sex-discrimination claim. Dennis Egan, Craft's attorney, said he believes it will take at least a week for Stevens to rule on that question.
On a third issue in the case, the jury, which deliberated for 8 1/2 hours, sided with Metromedia and found that the company did not violate equal pay laws by paying Craft less than the male co-anchor at the station.
Following the verdict Craft told reporters she felt "like doing a triple jump. Any company has the right to hire and fire as they see fit. But if it breaks federal law, then that's another matter entirely."
Craft said she that the portion of her lawsuit asking reinstatement to her old job is now a "moot point" since the station has changed ownership. She said she plans to stay at her current job as co-anchor at KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara.
Women's groups immediately praised the decision.
"I'm thrilled," said Mary Jean Collins, vice president of the National Organization for Women. "I think the issues were of great concern to women in the business . . . . Without question, there is sex discrimination in the television industry. There's a double standard for men and women . . . . The ruling will be good for television, good for the viewing audience and good for the individual."
Donald W. Giffin, Metromedia's attorney, declined comment on the verdict and said that it was too early to make a decision on the appeal.
Craft had charged the station with fraud, saying that Metromedia defrauded her by claiming she was hired solely because of her skills as a journalist.
Much of the trial centered on her claim that on Aug. 14, 1981, her boss--then-KMBC News Director Ridge Shannon--told her in a meeting that she was being removed as co-anchor because she was "too old, unattractive and not deferential enough to men."
Shannon denied on the witness stand that he ever made the comment. He also denied that Craft's sex had anything to do with her salary or her demotion.
"There was no discussion of her physical beauty," Shannon testified. "Her age was never a factor at any time . . . . The word deference never came up. I did not say she was not deferential enough to men."
Craft, who testified about a "climate of discrimination" at KMBC while she worked there, spent two days on the witness stand. Craft said that before she accepted the co-anchor position she warned KMBC management that she did not want to be "made over."
Craft also testified she was paid several thousand dollars a year less than her male co-anchor. The station said she was paid less because she had less experience.
Bob Hamilton, an attorney who handled Craft's contract talks with the station, testified that he told the station his client was a "California surfer, not a beauty queen." He said he told Shannon that Craft was "what they saw when they interviewed her" and did not want to be made over.
Metromedia said it had no choice but to demote Craft because audience reaction to her was extremely negative. Station manager R. Kent Replogle testified that KMBC first learned that in a viewer survey that its audience was unhappy with Craft in May, 1981, four months after she started the anchor job.
Craft quit her job at the station rather than accept the demotion to a news reporter's job, and returned to her old job at the Santa Barbara station.