A former CBS News producer is suing the network for discrimination, claiming that the company punished him for speaking out about being the victim of a brutal gay-bashing assault last year.
Richard "Dick" Jefferson is seeking up to $50 million in damages from CBS, CBS News and Linda Mason, who is the network's senior vice president for standards and special projects, and executive producer Patricia Shevlin.
In a suit filed in New York State Supreme Court June 25, Jefferson claims that the network discriminated against him and retaliated against him when he complained about such treatment, accusing CBS of a "deeply rooted bias against homosexuals."
Jefferson, an 18-year veteran of the network earning almost $225,000 a year as senior broadcast producer for the weekend edition of the CBS Evening News, and his colleague, Ryan Smith, who also worked at CBS, were viciously assaulted while on vacation in St. Maarten, an island in the West Indies, last April.
As they left a nightclub, Jefferson was hit in the skull with a tire wrench and Smith was cornered and hit multiple times with the wrench. Due to the severity of their injuries (Jefferson now has a titanium plate in his head), CBS News arranged and paid for both men to be airlifted to Miami for further treatment.
Jefferson, along with gay rights groups, later complained about the slow response of the St. Maarten police to the attack and demanded a full investigation.
"The police response has been no police response, total indifference," Jefferson told ABC's "Good Morning America" last April.
His claims were also reported by MSNBC and The New York Times and other news organizations. Last November, four men were convicted of the attack, and received jail sentences of six months to six years.
When he returned to work, Jefferson claims CBS News President Sean McManus told him to "do what you have to do" regarding his efforts to have the St. Maarten police take a more proactive stance on crimes against tourists.
But the veteran producer says things soon went downhill after he took on the cause to help tourists and people who are victims of violence overseas, claiming CBS took issue with his participation in an "advocacy cause."
Several months later, Jefferson says he was placed on probation after a correspondent complained that he was overly critical of her reporting. Jefferson says he was warned that he would be fired if there was another complaint by a colleague.
During coverage of another news story Aug. 27, 2006, Jefferson acknowledges that several staffers grumbled about working hard in a tense environment, but he says that Shevlin assured him he was not going to be fired, despite the previous warnings.
But soon after helping to produce the network's election coverage in the fall of 2006 — which, according to the lawsuit, earned him a personal thank-you from anchor Katie Couric — Jefferson was fired Nov. 20, 2006.
"I couldn't believe it -- I was almost killed, and I was trying to get the government to do something, and I was being told that it's a gay-rights issue," Jefferson told ABCNEWS.com. "I felt like I was punished for speaking out on this issue," he said.
CBS News released a statement calling the complaint "unequivocally baseless," saying that Jefferson was fired due to "legitimate issues with his performance."