Alycia Lane sues former station

June 20, 2008 1:19:55 PM PDT
Fired newscaster Alycia Lane sued her former employer on Thursday, alleging that the station and its general manager deliberately got her personal life into the news in order to get free publicity and then subjected her to "public flagellation" in firing her. The lawsuit filed Thursday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court seeks unspecified damages, saying KYW-TV management "intentionally and maliciously" damaged her reputation and had a pattern of "deep-seated gender-discriminatory animus" toward female employees.

Lane was fired in January after a series of embarrassing off-camera incidents, culminating in an arrest in December in New York City after an alleged late-night scuffle with police. The lawsuit, however, alleges that station management contributed to the incidents.

The lawsuit says the station told Lane to interview TV psychologist Phil McGraw in 2004 and suggested that she talk about some of her past relationships. She said she understood that inappropriate personal elements would be removed and was mortified when footage of her crying about her divorce was included. She said she did not want to appear on McGraw's show a second time, but the station ordered her to do so.

The suit says due to those decisions, Lane "was branded in the press as someone who sought to make herself the news, rather than to merely report the news. The great irony in all of this was that the plaintiff never wanted to do the story in the first place, and never wanted to inject her private life and personal relationships into the public arena."

The lawsuit said the McGraw incident taught the station that getting Lane's personal life in the news "would cause a media stir that would energize key segments of KYW-TV's personal audience, attract more viewers for the station, and increase revenue for the station."

On Friday, KYW released a statement saying Lane's claims were without merit and that the station would defend itself against them vigorously.

Since 2003, Lane had co-hosted the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts with Larry Mendte until she was fired in January. The FBI searched Mendte's home last month and removed a computer following allegations that someone might be reading Lane's e-mail messages.

Mendte is not listed as a defendant, but the suit says he regularly discussed her personal life while appearing as a guest on a morning radio show produced by CBS Radio. The suit says Lane was barred from making public statements without management's approval and alleges that Mendte had "either express or tacit approval" to talk about her. A phone message left late Thursday seeking comment from Mendte's lawyer Michael A. Schwartz was not immediately returned.

The suit - which names CBS Broadcasting Inc., station general manager Michael Colleran and unnamed others - also provides some of the first public accounts of Lane's side of various incidents: - Lane alleges that the station instructed her to dress more provocatively when interviewing Prince Albert of Monaco, specifically telling her to "sex it up." The prince asked Lane to dance and Lane sent a photo of the two dancing to her private e-mail account. The New York Post later got an anonymous e-mail message that contained the photo and wrote that "the newlywed journo is seen head to head with Albert, her arms cozily wrapped around the royal," the suit said.

- She said she sent a photo of herself and friends on a beach to NFL Network sportscaster Rich Eisen because she was talking on the phone with Eisen and they were curious about whether one of the friends in the photo had met Eisen. When Eisen's wife saw the photo, she responded to Lane, and the incident was reported by the Post. Lane said KYW-TV management would not allow her to respond personally, and while she was humiliated, the station's ratings improved.

- Lane said she repeatedly told Colleran and others that the photos could only be obtained with a security breach of her private e-mail, but the station dismissed her concerns as "paranoia."

- She said her encounter with New York City police was the result of her mistaken belief that she was witnessing an assault on her boyfriend. She said she got out of the taxi she was riding in to take photos, not realizing that the confrontation involved plainclothes police, and was arrested.

Lane said she was falsely accused of having used an anti-lesbian slur, and also denies having made a call to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, as had been reported. Lane said the station knew she was innocent in the case, but fired her anyway.

On Jan 7, Mente read a statement from Colleran on the air, saying "We have concluded that it would be impossible for Alycia to continue to report the news as she, herself, has become the focus of so many news stories."

The lawsuit describes that as "public flagellation ...

unprecedented in the industry" and alleges that it was done to make other stations less likely to hire Lane.

The lawsuit also notes that Mendte remains a KYW-TV employee after the FBI search of his home became public, although he is no longer on the air, and alleges that the difference in their treatment is evidence of sex discrimination.