A woman who said she was demoted on a television news program because her employer considered her ''too old, unattractive and not deferential enough to men'' was awarded $500,000 in damages today.
The case had drawn national attention because it raised the question of whether or not station managers apply criteria of physical appearance more to women than to men when they appear on camera in news programs.
Television executives and some legal experts said they were troubled by the jury's decision, but women's rights advocates saw it as a victory for women who work in television news. (Page C17.)
Fraud in Hiring Charged
The woman, Christine Craft, contended in one part of her suit that the company had fraudulently said it was hiring her for her journalistic abilities, not her appearance, but then demoted her because she did not meet their standards of physical attractiveness.
The four-woman, two-man jury found for Miss Craft on the fraud charge. It also issued an advisory verdict urging the judge to find that her former employer, Metromedia, Inc.had practiced sex discrimination, but it disagreed with Miss Craft's contention that the company had violated equal-pay laws.
On the fraud charge, actual damages were assessed at $375,000. After reconvening briefly, the jury awarded punitive damages of $125,000.
The jury had deliberated for about nine hours over two days. Television station executives and legal experts said they were surprised by the verdict and expressed concern that it could tie the hands of television executives in their hiring of on-camera employees.
''I think it has serious implications for a station that has to compete in a market to have to keep somebody that the audience doesn't like,'' said Charles G. Bakaly Jr., senior partner in charge of labor and employment law at O'Melveny & Meyers, a Los Angeles law firm.
Robert Bennett, president of Metromedia Broadcasting and Productions, said he was surprised by the jury's decision. ''A station,'' he said, ''must have the right to let somebody go, and we may have to make decisions in a different way, but ultimately we will still have to decide based on the reaction these people have with the viewers.'' Co-Anchor in 1981
Today's verdict stems from a suit filed in January against Metromedia Inc., the former owner of Channel 9 KMBC-TV, where Miss Craft worked for part of 1981 as a co-anchor on the nightly news.
Metromedia, which last year sold the station to the Hearst Corporation, was charged with sex and pay discrimination, fraud and misrepresentation. The suit sought reinstatement, double lost wages, benefits and a total of $1.2 million in actual and punitive damages.
Miss Craft was hired by the station in December 1980 to be co-anchor with Scott Feldman. Eight months later, she was removed from the co- anchor position and demoted to reporter. She then returned to a television station in Santa Barbara, Calif., saying her demotion was tantamount to dismissal.In two weeks of testimony before United States District Court Judge Joseph E. Stevens, lawyers and witnesses discussed Miss Craft's suitability as a television news anchor and the expectations of the television news industry itself. The jurors included a janitorial supervisor, a secretary, a sales clerk, a packager, a machine operator and a carpenter.
Miss Craft, who is 38 years old, said that she was removed as co-anchor because of her sex. She said that at the time of her demotion Ridge Shannon, who was the station's news director, said that she was ''too unattractive, too old and not deferential enough to men.''
Miss Craft testified that she had specifically told KMBC she did not intend to ''make over'' or be ''made over'' if she took the position in Kansas City. But once on the job, she testified, the station's management and consultants criticized her makeup, hair and clothes, despite what she said were earlier assurances they were looking for more than a ''pretty face.'' Surprised at Removal
Mr. Feldman testified that he was surprised to learn in August 1981 that Miss Craft was being removed as co- anchor. He described her as ''conscientious and hard working.'' He also testified that he was told that research indicated Miss Craft was perceived as not deferring to men, and as being too old and too unattractive.
The station's consultants were Media Associates, a Dallas concern now called Audience Research and Development. Miss Craft testified that the consultants repeatedly told her that clothes and makeup were crucial in creating ''the illusion of credibility.''
In her testimony, Miss Craft admitted that she did not carefully read the contract that she signed with the station and that she did not have it examined by a lawyer as the station's management suggested. Parts of the contract set out the rights of the station to assign and reassign news personnel.
The station manager, R. Kent Replogle, testified that Miss Craft was a skilled journalist but that she lacked interest in her appearance. He also testified that appearance was the top priority in selecting an anchor, saying, ''I would put that at the top of the list.'' 'Warmth and Comfort'
Ed Bewley, a senior partner in the Dallas consulting company, testified that in 1980 the company had recommended that the station retain Mr. Feldman but look for a woman co-anchor to bring ''warmth and comfort'' to the news show. Audience research conducted after Miss Craft began her duties in Kansas City indicated, however, that she was not acceptable to many potential viewers, he testified.
In defense testimony, officials discussed two surveys conducted and interpreted from May through July of 1981. One survey consisted of four groups of viewers who were asked to critique the news shows of three network stations in Kansas City. The other was a telephone survey.
A media researcher, Steve Meacham, testified that he found that Miss Craft had consistently rated last among local anchorwomen in terms of viewer's opinions of her looks, her appearance, attitude, dress, journalistic skills and other attributes considered essential to television ratings.
But Tom Beisecker, chairman of communications studies at the University of Kansas, criticized the consultant's techniques, calling tapes of viewer panels played for the jury ''backyard gossip.'' Sex Discrimination Denied
Mr. Shannon denied in testimony that Miss Craft was a victim of sex discrimination in her salary, or that her age, physical attractiveness, or her purported lack of deference to men entered into her demotion.
Mr. Shannon said that Miss Craft was not asked to change her appearance radically but merely to adhere to clothing and grooming standards considered routine throughout the television news industry.
In a deposition, Lynn Wilford, the consultant's talent scout, said that she devoted twice as much time to Miss Craft's performance techniques as she did to her appearance.
'Is She a Mutt?'
In 1980, a Dallas consulting firm suggested that Kansas City's KMBC-TV look for a woman co-anchor to bring ''warmth and comfort'' to the news. The search turned up Christine Craft, an anchorwoman in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Miss Craft, burned by an unfortunate experience with CBS (they'd cut her hair, bleached it blonde, blackened her eyebrows and reddened her lips), was wary. KMBC was reassuring. ''We love you just the way you are,'' an executive told her. She took the job, but then KMBC criticized her appearance almost daily and did its best to make her over. When after seven months she was demoted to reporter, she hollered fraud and took the station to court.
The station managers, she contended, had lied when they said they were hiring her for her journalistic abilities and not her appearance. She also charged that they unfairly paid her less than her male co-anchor and demoted her because she was, in their words, ''too old, unattractive and not deferential enough to men.'' The station denied all the allegations, and said her contract (which she admitted not having read carefully) allowed them to change employee titles and positions.
Now a Federal jury has also cried fraud. It disagreed with her contention that the company had violated equal-pay laws. But it urged the judge to find that her former employer, Metromedia Inc., had practiced sex discrimination. And it awarded her $500,000 in damages. Whether the station was guilty of sex discrimination is still undecided, but there's a simpler judgment that can be safely made right now. Miss Craft's former employers treated her shamefully, and their reasons reflect values that insult her and the public. The station conducted ''focus sessions'' in which viewers were invited by a research firm to criticize videotapes. They were asked to ''spend 30 seconds destroying Chris Craft.'' The researcher made the first move: ''Is she a mutt? Let's be honest about this.'' Miss Craft quotes KMBC's news director as saying at another time that when people ''see your face, they turn the dial.'' And, she added, ''he said the research showed the people of Kansas City liked warm, pretty things and he was disappointed they were so provincial.'' What Miss Craft lacked, it seems, was the ability to deliver the news with ''warmth and comfort.'' In this, of course, she is hardly alone. Those journalists who make it on camera as celebrity anchors aren't there simply because of journalistic skill but because they lure people to their channels just as surely as a Clint Eastwood lures them to his movies. Just the other day a network president said of a new anchorman: ''He has all the on-the-air appearance anyone would want.'' What ''anyone would want'' in a TV newsman embraces the tall, short, fat, thin, handsome and otherwise. But not in a TV newswoman. Few viewers would quarrel with Miss Craft's observation that wrinkles are ''seasoning'' in a man but ''disqualification'' in a woman. Whether or not that constitutes formal sex discrimination, it represents a broader failing. Too bad TV news isn't as up-to-date as the movies. There are few female film stars under 40; one of the biggest, Katharine Hepburn, is 73; and nobody ever called Bette Davis ''a warm pretty thing.'' How insulting that television, which reports facts, still perpetuates an old fiction: that once a woman has lost her youth, she's lost everything.
COURT BARS $325,000 AWARD TO CHRISTINE CRAFT
A Federal appeals court today overruled a $325,000 jury award to Christine Craft, the former television anchor newscaster who waged two court battles against the station she contended had demoted her because of her appearance.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that Metromedia Inc., former owner of KMBC-TV, had not defrauded Miss Craft by promising ''no makeover or substantial changes'' in her appearance and then requiring her to spend hours with clothing and appearance consultants.
The court ordered United States District Judge Joseph E. Stevens to enter a verdict in favor of Metromedia.
The appeals court also affirmed verdicts in favor of Metromedia on Miss Craft's charges that she was a victim of sex discrimination and that she was paid less than her male co-anchor when she worked at KMBC in 1981.
''I'm really demoralized,'' Miss Craft said in California, where she now lives.
'I Am Not a Quitter'
''I am not a quitter,'' she said, adding that she would ''try to get to the Supreme Court if we have to.''
''There's no verdict, no money,'' said Dennis Egan, one of Miss Craft's attorneys. ''The gist of it is I feel 18 jurors knew what was meant by the evidence. It was for them to say. Not for an appellate court that did not review the evidence and was not there to observe the demeanor of the witnesses.''
''I have a smile on my face,'' said Donald Giffin, the Metromedia attorney who fought Miss Craft in trials in Kansas City and Joplin, Mo. ''It is victory on all counts. Total victory.''
Mr. Egan said he would petition the appeals court for another hearing before the full court. If that fails, he said, he may take the case to the United States Supreme Court.
Miss Craft, 40 years old, was removed from the anchor desk of the Kansas City station in August 1981 after less than a year and was offered a job reporting for the station. She declined the offer and filed suit against Metromedia.
Miss Craft said she had demanded as a condition of employment at KMBC that no changes be made in her appearance. She said the news director, Ridge Shannon, and the station manager, R. Kent Replogle, were critical of her appearance almost immediately after her debut Jan. 5, 1981. $500,000 Award Initially In August 1983 a six-member jury in Kansas City awarded Miss Craft $500,000 on the fraud allegation. Judge Stevens threw out the award, declaring it was excessive, and ordered the new trial in Joplin.
A 12-member jury in Joplin awarded her $225,000 in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages in January 1984.
The appeals court, which sits in St. Louis and released the decision in St. Louis and Kansas City, ruled that Miss Craft was required to prove that Mr. Shannon and Mr. Replogle intended all along to change her appearance.
The appeals court said it considered the evidence in a light most favorable to Miss Craft before concluding, ''We are not satisfied that it demonstrates that when they promised they intended 'no makeover or substantial changes,' such statements were false.''
The appeals court also rejected Miss Craft's appeal on the sex discrimination charge. She accused KMBC of not requiring men to spend as much time on their appearance as women.
The appeals court said that argument was based on questions of fact over which it had only limited powers of review. And the court upheld the ruling in favor of Metromedia on Miss Craft's claim that equal pay laws were violated because her co-anchor was paid more. The court said Judge Stevens did not abuse his powers by refusing to allow Miss Craft to introduce certain evidence to back up the charge.
Conversations/Christine Craft; Revenge of a Former Talking Head: Seen Less but Heard More
CHRISTINE CRAFT swims laps every night right before her broadcast, planning the provocative topics she will discuss on her radio talk show. Then she goes on the air with wet hair, wearing leggings, a football jersey and not one iota of makeup.
That working costume is a far cry from what Ms. Craft wore as a television anchor in Kansas City in 1983, when she was forced to put on blouses with bows, blazers with crisp collars and gobs of foundation to narrow what her bosses considered a jutting chin.
No longer facing the stinging judgment of wardrobe consultants and makeup experts is "a great relief," said Ms. Craft, 48, who became a household name a decade ago when she sued the station for demoting her.
Ms. Craft, whom management described as too old, too ugly and not deferential to men, won her case before two juries and then saw both verdicts overturned and a Supreme Court appeal rejected.
In the years since, she has worked the lecture circuit, written an engaging book, bumped around in television here in the state where she was raised and finally settled into a job where nobody cares what she looks like.
Now, nimble of mind and sharp of tongue, she takes calls from 9 P.M. to midnight each weekday at KFBK, 1530 on your AM dial, the 50,000-watt station that spawned Rush Limbaugh.
And she says that yakking about gays in the military or the President's haircut with Andy in Elk Grove or Ken on his car phone is far more satisfying than "reading a Teleprompter and looking perfect."
Radio is "of the mind and of the voice," Ms. Craft said reverentially of her current medium. "You have the opportunity to express a point of view and argue a point. You use your head. You encourage people to think critically."
Ms. Craft is an interesting change of pace on talk radio, which a recent study found to be the preserve of conservative, white male listeners -- the kind who call Mr. Limbaugh's show and rant about "feminazis." While Ms. Craft hears from more fans like womens' rights advocates, homosexuals or blacks than the average talk radio host, most of her callers despise her generally left-of-center politics. Unpredictable Opinions
"They disagree with most everything I say and listen to get their blood pressure up," Ms. Craft remarked during a commercial break one recent night when one of her first callers was Dave from Carmichael, who identified himself as a "ditto-head" -- which is talk radio shorthand for a Rush Limbaugh fan. "But they find my take is not predictable on everything. And when somebody says, 'You surprised me,' that's delicious."
She has surprised her listeners by not seeking social or psychological explanations for a recent rash of "swarming" crimes here in Sacramento, where gangs of young men descend upon convenience stores and terrorize clerks and customers. "They're little hoods," Ms. Craft said, adding that more of them would be incarcerated if the jails were not full as a result of mandatory sentences for minor drug crimes, which she opposes.
She surprised them again with her attitude about bilingualism, which she thinks "screws up the schools and costs billions." Immigrants should immerse themselves in American life and language and not cling to the ways of their past, said Ms. Craft, who says she bristles each time an automatic teller machine asks if she wants her banking information in Spanish or Chinese.
And she surprised them again one recent evening when she lit up the switchboard by asking listeners if they felt sorry for Rodney King, who had been complaining that notoriety had ruined his life. Among the callers that night was Cranston from Sacramento, who identified himself as an African-American and launched into a less-than-coherent tirade about race relations.
"Blacks should vent their anger and frustration toward the real enemy, not each other," Cranston said.
"You're talking about a race war, are you not?" Ms. Craft sniffed in reply.
Ms. Craft has been on the radio here since 1991, when she beat out Maureen Reagan for the job. Originally on the air in the afternoon, when the audience is larger, she is now struggling to get a foothold in the 9-to-midnight slot in an early-to-bed sort of town.
Raised a surfer girl in Santa Barbara, Ms. Craft has cobbled together a pleasing if eccentric life in this booming city carved from Central Valley farms.
She lives alone in a "little funky house" on an unpaved road outside of town where she wakes to the sound of whippoorwills and tends an organic garden. She has two pit bulls, a German shepherd, an aging Labrador, more cats than she is willing to admit and several wild Peruvian parakeets. The back of her four-wheel-drive vehicle is full of pet food and she arranges to meet a stranger in a restaurant by saying, "You'll recognize me by the animal hair."
Broadcasting is but a small part of Ms. Craft's life these late summer days, as she readies herself to resume classes at McGeorge School of Law, where she is halfway through a four-year program. 'Trial Junkie'
Ms. Craft described herself as "a trial junkie" as a reporter and said that she enjoyed every minute of her own three-year court fight, when she began to learn the arcane rules of Federal procedure, studied how her lawyers drafted their oral arguments and played David to Metromedia's Goliath.
But that is not why Ms. Craft is slogging through law school, earning only passing grades in most of her courses while excelling in moot court arguments because she is "a damn good oral advocate" who is "not intimidated by people in black robes."
The point of going to law school in middle age, Ms. Craft said, is to give herself career options for the second half of her working life, when people often find themselves also-rans in their chosen careers.
"I want some new skills for the back 50," she said. "Broadcasting is a notoriously nontenurial profession."
Ms. Craft is nothing if not realistic about her own career, which has included stints as a curvaceous weather girl in rural Salinas and as a token woman interviewer on the distaff segments of CBS Sports Spectacular.
In Kansas City, she said, she was forced off the air less because of her appearance than because she knew the difference between the American and National Leagues and asked hard questions of the mayor, neither of which were part of the job description for a female anchor.
A decade after her first trial, Ms. Craft is asked whether she has any regrets about suing her employer and perhaps ruining a promising television career. Her answer is quick and sure.
"Nary a one," she said. "If I hadn't rocked the boat, I might have had a few more jobs in television and been a tele-has-been a few years later. But I'd never have been top of the heap. Let's be honest. I'm not Diane Sawyer. I wish I was, but I'm not, so I wasn't risking much. I knew that then and I know it now."