The network claims that it regularly forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation and that "contrary to Mr. Jefferson's claims, CBS News also supported Mr. Jefferson's right to discuss the attack publicly and to seek justice, which he clearly did." The network also says that it spent tens of thousands of dollars to airlift him to safety after the attack, which he suffered "while on a personal vacation.
"We will vigorously and aggressively defend ourselves against Mr. Jefferson's unwarranted complaint and his regrettably vicious and unconscionable attack on Ms. Mason's character," the network said in its statement.
Workplace discrimination lawyers say that fired employees can have a difficult time prevailing in such lawsuits. "The bar is very high in these cases for the person claiming discrimination," says David Raff, the managing partner of Raff & Becker, a law firm in New York City. "They must make a prima facie case [present clear evidence] that what occurred was discrimination. All the employer has to show is a reasonable explanation for his termination."
To compile evidence of discrimination, the plaintiffs in such cases need to do plenty of research. "You need to do a very thorough investigation, talk to witnesses, look at the employee's performance and that of other comparable employees and how they were treated," says Raff. "The difficulty is it's never a nice, neat package."
Smith, who continues to works as a researcher at CBS News' "48 Hours," is not a party to the lawsuit.
Jefferson claims that since the firing he has received phone calls from former CBS legends Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, expressing their full support. A publicist for Rather said that he was on assignment in India and could not be reached for comment. Cronkite's chief of staff said that the broadcast legend has long admired Jefferson, but that since Cronkite was not fully appraised of this particular case, he was not in a position to comment.
Jefferson is currently writing a book about CBS in which he says he will use his experience "to show the transition from the days of Cronkite to the days of Katie." But don't expect a hatchet job. Jefferson says he greatly respects the network.
"I love CBS," he says. "I'm grateful [for the airlifting]. I mean Ryan [Smith] probably owes his life to it. We're talking about what happened afterward."