Former television news anchor and reporter Paula Lopez Ochoa has filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against NPG of California, which owns the KEYT and and KFFX stations where she worked for almost 30 years.
Lopez says she was terminated in September 2015 after she was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and assaulting an officer.
In a plea agreement, she pleaded no contest to DUI, refusing a chemical test, delaying a peace officer, and battery on a peace officer.
She was sentenced to 120 days in jail and probation, and served 50 days in the electronic-monitoring program.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 2 by Santa Barbara-based attorney Janean Daniels, claims Lopez developed a loyal following of viewers during her time at KEYT, and “distinguished herself as one of the most experienced, trusted, visible and vibrant television journalists on the Central Coast.”
Lopez says she was “discriminated against, demeaned and degraded by NPG on the basis of her sex, disability and Hispanic race/ancestry; was denied equal pay based on her sex; and was denied reasonable accommodation of her disability, and the legally mandated interactive process regarding such disability.”
She claims NPG failed to offer her a fair agreement when it purchased the stations, offering a “minimal pay increase” while she was paid “significantly lower salary than her male, non-Hispanic counterpart, CJ Ward.”
The lawsuit also claims there were “unsanitary and unsafe working conditions” by having women reporters and anchors put on makeup in the station bathroom after the makeup room was converted to a studio, and by having news staff shoot programs from the Santa Barbara station for multiple channels by quickly changing from set to set.
Lopez said she took leave from work after going missing for a day in 2013, for reasons related to her “complex combination of symptoms and conditions, including symptoms related to alcoholism, anxiety, and depression, for which plaintiff was undergoing treatment.”
Five months later, in July, she was arrested for public intoxication while walking near her home, and was suspended without pay.
Authorities indicated the charges could be dropped if Lopez went through the misdemeanor diversion program and the lawsuit indicates that they were.
She released a public statement at the time saying her day-long disappearance and arrest were the result of her “ongoing battle with alcoholism.”
In the lawsuit, Lopez claims she signed a “last chance agreement” to avoid being fired, and the agreement included provisions to have random drug and alcohol testing – and the station called to check results, which violated her privacy.
She later returned to work and was moved to KCOY, a station with “less stature” and a job with a harder workload, including longer drive times with trips to Santa Maria and other areas of the North County, the lawsuit alleges.
When she was moved from the primetime anchor slot and then moved to KCOY, she was replaced by “younger, non-Hispanic” women, she says in the lawsuit.
After her Sept. 6, 2015 DUI arrest, she was terminated from her job, according to the lawsuit.
She filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in November 2015 and was issued a notice of her right to sue.
The lawsuit alleges she was harmed with a loss of compensation, employability, harm to her personal and professional reputation, the company violated her privacy, and caused her mental pain and anguish, and emotional distress.
The case was assigned to Judge James Herman and scheduled for a Jan. 4, 2017, case-management conference.
Mark Danielson, general manager for the television stations, told Noozhawk “NPG of California does not comment on current or former employees and it cannot comment on any potential litigation.”