Hicks v. KNTV Television, Inc., 160 Cal. App. 4th 994 (2008)

Bradford Hicks, a white man, was the 5:00 p.m. weeknight news anchor for KNTV. After KNTV chose not to renew Hicks’ contract, it selected an African-American man to fill the position Hicks had vacated. Hicks alleged race discrimination and wrongful termination, asserting that KNTV was under “pressure in the industry to hire minorities and KNTV was bound by the affirmative action programs of General Electric, NBC’s parent company, and by its own affirmative action program.” The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of KNTV, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that KNTV produced sufficient unrebutted evidence that its reason for refusing to negotiate a new contract with Hicks was unrelated to his race and instead had to do with KNTV’s perception that his on-air style was “aloof, distant, standoffish, unapproachable, stiff and too anchor-like.” The Court held the fact that KNTV’s assessment of Hicks was based upon subjective criteria did not demonstrate pretext for discrimination — “absent some evidence that the station made its decision based upon race, the mere use of subjective criteria does not permit us to second guess the employer’s business judgment.” Cf. Jones v. Lodge at Torrey Pines P’ship, 42 Cal. 4th 1158 (2008) (individual supervisors and managers may not be held personally liable for retaliation under FEHA).