After a two-week trial and almost a week of deliberations, the jury today in veteran former NBC News producer Frank Snepp’s age-discrimination lawsuit against NBCUniversal said they can’t reach a verdict. With that deadlock among the six men and six women jury, Judge Stephen Moloney declared a mistrial.
Closing arguments were presented on December 18 and Snepp’s lawyers urged he be awarded over $5.5 million in damages. The jury in L.A. Superior Court returned to the courtroom this morning after just 2-hours behind closed doors. Today’s announcement comes after NBC failed in its attempt on December 21 to scuttle the whole thing and have a mistrial declared then. Now it looks like the jury did NBC’s job for them — at least for now.
“While we believe the majority voted for Frank Snepp, we didn’t quite get to the magic number of 9 out of 12 jurors needed to reach a verdict,” stated Snepp’s lawyer Suzelle M. Smith Thursday “We look forward to trying the case again as soon as possible. During trial due in part to the press coverage we have learned even more about NBC’s discriminatory conduct towards its older employees. Mr. Snepp and his legal team are committed to seeing justice done no matter how long it takes. “
The now 72-year old former CIA analyst and award-winning producer first sued the media giant and parent company Comcast for a wide range of unspecified damages on October 1, 2013 claiming that he had been dropped from LA affiliate KNBC in late 2012 due to his age. In his lawsuit, Snepp asserted that the tone and leadership dramatically altered at the L.A. affiliate after Comcast announced its acquisition of NBCUniversal in late 2009. In the back and forth of filings and motions, NBC News lost an attempt to dismiss the case back in August. Judge Moloney ruled this summer that that Snepp had provided enough evidence that a “discriminatory motive” was a factor in his exiting KNBC in October 2012 to be able to move forward to a wrongful termination trial.
Before the trial, NBC claimed Snepp was let go from KNBC because he wasn’t up to snuff at his job anymore. The company also said that the news producer was not in step with the direction the company was taking the local station after 2009. Then again, since being hired in 2005, Snepp’s work helped win KNBC three Emmys, a Peabody and a Western Region Edward R. Murrow Award.
Still, during the downtown L.A. trial, the media company brought forth former KNBC news directors and other employees to the stand. They argued that Snepp did not perform the new duties and technical responsibilities that went with his new job title of Content Producer, despite a $10,000 a year raise. On the witness stand himself on December 7, Snepp refuted that and said he “never refused an assignment.” The producer’s testimony also alleged that he was set up for insubordination so KNBC could axe him like they had other older journalists since 2009.
The ex-producer, who was brought on board by NBC at the age of 61, also claimed in his original filing that he was punished at KNBC for being “outspoken” and complaining about the treatment older employees were subjected to. “Plaintiff was replaced by investigative reporter(s) either under 40 or who were substantially younger than he,” according to the 2013 complaint. Snepp claimed that his direct supervisors knew of his complaints to human resources at KNBC and decided to finally fire him because of it. In August, Judge Moloney cut those retaliation claims from the case and they were not a part of the trial.
Suzelle Smith and Archibald Magill Smith, IV of L.A.’s Howarth & Smith are representing Snepp in the case. NBCUniversal and Comcast are represented by Bart Williams of Munger, Tolles & Olsen.