Reporter sues NBC San Diego, his former employer, in Fallout of Footnote 15 Case

Dorian Hargrove, shown in 2017 while a reporter for the San Diego Reader, said NBC San Diego shamed and unfairly punished him. Photo by Ken Stone

May 2nd, Dorian Hargrove tweeted that he was “super excited” to leave NBC San Diego and ‘even happier’ to reveal he’s joining his rival CBS8 (just 3.4 miles away).

Dorian Hargrove Files Lawsuit Against NBC Universal (PDF)

The award-winning journalist’s joy became clearer just over a month later.

On June 6, Hargrove filed a lawsuit against NBC Universal, the parent company of his former station, KNSD, alleging “implicit termination” by NBC. Also named as defendants are his former bosses, Greg Dawson and Chuck Westerheide.

Through his lawyer, Marlea Francesca Dell’Anno, Hargrove, 45, is seeking a jury trial in San Diego Superior Court, claiming that NBC7/39 violated state anti-discrimination laws and ran a hostile workplace.

He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees in a matter assigned to Judge Timothy Taylor.

Dawson, in a legal filing, called the lawsuit ‘frivolous, unfounded and unreasonable’ – and sought an award of attorney’s fees and costs ‘after judgment in [his] foster.”

A long moment writer for San Diego ReaderHargrove became history himself after being publicly exposed by Mayor Todd Gloria and City Attorney Mara Elliott for reporting the infamous “footnote 15,” which they claim was fabricated.

In September 2020, amid a heated mayoral race, Hargrove revealed a leaked memo from out-of-town attorneys investigating the city’s controversial purchase of the ill-fated 101 Ash Street property. .

“Footnote 15 … raised questions about whether current Mayor Todd Gloria hid information about the Ash Street deal from the public and other council members when it was approved in 2016,” reports the Union-Tribune. “He said he didn’t.”

The footnote also says Elliott helped protect Gloria from investigators at Burke, Williams & Sorensen, the Los Angeles law firm hired by the city in 2019 to review the transaction and write the report, said the UT.

Following an official rejection, KNSD retracted the story and suspended Hargrove and investigative reporter Tom Jones.

Responses from NBC San Diego, Greg Dawson and Chuck Westerheide (PDF)

Hargrove returned to work, but hired an attorney to sue City Attorney Elliott, claiming she violated her First Amendment rights by lobbying NBC San Diego.

But in mid-December 2021, Federal Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo granted the motion of the city of San Diego to dismiss the lawsuit.

Now Hargrove is going after his former employer.

The lawsuit says that on May 6, 2021, NBC San Diego harassed Hargrove because of his disability (effects of a horrible head trauma in 2009), age, family care or medical leave “and as a result…was reprimanded, suspended, demoted… [and] decline work opportunities or assignments.

When Hargrove returned to NBC, according to the suit, station vice president Dawson “imposed new restrictions on the discipline previously imposed on Mr. Hargrove, including prohibiting Mr. Hargrove … from submitting requests under the public records law to the city – even in its private capacity. citizen.”

Hargrove complained about the restricted access to city government, “but his complaint fell on deaf ears,” the lawsuit says.

By contrast, NBC colleague Tom Jones, who contributed to the story of 101 Ash (and was also suspended), returned to NBC in a better position than Hargrove, according to the lawsuit.

“Instead, Mr. Hargrove was told he should send his arguments to the news officers, who repeatedly ignored them,” the lawsuit states. “On at least one occasion, Mr Hargrove was reprimanded for a story he started.”

Hargrove eventually complained to NBC’s ethics department about what he called unfair treatment, according to the lawsuit, but “the adverse actions escalated.”

At one point, according to the 15-page complaint, Dawson compared Hargrove to a “product defect” similar to one found in manufacturing and that his previous stories should be reviewed.

“Mr Hargrove objected to being called a ‘product defect’ when the HR manager [Nirupama] Hedge sat in silence and said not a word to Dawson about insulting an employee in such an abusive manner,” the lawsuit states.

Being called a “flaw” deeply disturbed Hargrove, “sending him emotionally to a dark place” and – unable to bear further abuse and humiliation – forcing him to take mental health leave due “to his serious depression”.

(While on leave, Hargrove learned that her team had won a national Edward R. Murrow award for an online series on human trafficking. “In Dawson’s congratulatory message to the press room, Dawson conspicuously excluded Hargrove,” the costume reads.)

Hargrove and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment, with Dell’Anno (who won a recent case against the city attorney’s office) saying she couldn’t answer questions until this weekend.

One question is, why does the lawsuit note that Dawson is married to San Diego Assistant City Attorney Joan Dawson, “who works in the civil division of the city attorney’s office working closely with City Attorney Mara Elliott”?

For its part, KNSD declined to comment on the case. NBC attorneys Adrienne L. Conrad, Jaclyn M. Reinhart and Raina Sharma did not respond to requests for comment.

State DFEH Right to Sue Notice (PDF)

But legal documents from last month reveal how the station, Dawson and Westerheide (now San Diego County spokesperson) are responding to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies required under all applicable state and/or federal laws, including, but not limited to, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Sections 12960 and 12965 of the California Government Code,” states a 10-page response to the August 17 complaint.

In fact, Hargrove obtained a “right to sue” notice from the state on June 6.

The response also argues that Hargrove’s claims are barred “by the applicable statute of limitations.”

But the state told Hargrove’s attorney, “The employee’s statute of limitations for bringing a civil action, including all related claims not within the scope of Section 12945.2, is imposed from the receipt by the DFEH of a request for mediation under Article 12945.21 until the mediation is completed.”

On August 22, Westerheide declared, through its own lawyer, Noah J. Woodsthat “NBC has not received notice from Plaintiff that an employee or manager of Defendant has allegedly engaged in discriminatory, harassing, or retaliatory actions against Plaintiff because of his physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, age or for any other reason and plaintiff has unreasonably failed to complain about any alleged unlawful conduct to take advantage of available preventive or remedial opportunities and/or otherwise avoid harm.”

No trial date has been set.