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June 18, 2001
Anchorwoman's Suit To Get New Trial
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ew Jersey appeals court has said, "Not so fast," to a former television news anchorwoman who won a $7.3 million discrimination judgment against her station.

The court has ordered a new trial, saying the jury was given confusing instructions before it awarded the money to the anchorwoman, Sara Lee Kessler.

The three-judge panel also ruled that a written deposition by a witness was not sufficiently clear and should have required in-person testimony.

In April 1999, a Bergen County jury ordered WWOR-TV, Channel 9, to pay Kessler more than $7.3 million for demoting her and forcing her to take a disability leave.

Kessler was hired by Secaucus-based WWOR-TV in 1976 and became anchor of the "News Noon" show in 1989. She won an Emmy for anchoring coverage of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The jury award concerns Kessler's treatment after she broke her tailbone while riding in a news van in June 1993. She produced a doctor's note saying she could not spend long hours in cars, but her reporting assignments soon increased to five days a week, giving her back spasms, she claimed.

After returning to anchoring, she asked the station to provide her with a special pillow to ease her pain, according to her lawyer. Instead, the station told her to go on disability leave, he said.

When she returned, Kessler was demoted to full-time reporter. She was fired in March 1994, days after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

At issue in the appeals ruling was whether she was fired before or after the station received notice of her complaint. The appeals panel ruled that a written deposition by an EEOC employee who did not testify at the trial was insufficient.

Kessler, now a reporter at the New Jersey Network, had also claimed that the station demoted and then dismissed her because of her age, sex, and religion.

The station gave her poor assignments and then fired her because of her age and sex, she said; she also said managers frequently made her work past sundown on the Jewish Sabbath. Kessler is an Orthodox Jew.

To view an Associated Press story, visit the Bergen Record.
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