Tempers can be so blistering at One America News Network, the San Diego-based cable outlet for which President Donald Trump has professed his love and appreciation, that the 77-year-old owner and chief executive, Robert Herring Sr., once engaged in a shoving match with a 34-year-old African-American guest booker.
During a jury trial that commenced Thursday in California Superior Court, Herring testified that his physical altercation with Jonathan Harris—who’s suing the Trump-adoring, Russia-friendly channel—started when he suspected Harris of deleting important files from his company-issued computer.
According to the account of Herring’s testimony by San Diego Union-Tribune court reporter Kristina Davis, “He said Harris appeared to be deleting more items on the computer. Herring Sr. said he tried to block Harris’ access to the computer with his elbow, and Harris physically pushed back. The CEO then unplugged the machine. That’s when he fired Harris, Herring Sr. said. ‘I’ve got to keep my company running,’ the CEO testified.”
Herring, who’s expected to be grilled further as a hostile witness by Harris’ lawyers when the trial resumes next Tuesday, is a defendant in the lawsuit, along with OANN anchor Graham Ledger and the cable channel’s privately owned parent company, Herring Networks.
Harris’s complaint—which he filed in July 2018, a year after Herring fired him, ostensibly for erasing essential data from his computer—seeks unspecified damages for alleged racial harassment and discrimination, retaliation and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The lawsuit states that after being hired as a production assistant in November 2014, Harris, an outspoken liberal, was promoted in August 2016 to the job of booking producer for The Daily Ledger, a political commentary program anchored by bombastic local TV personality Graham Ledger.
During production meetings, “Ledger would regularly berate, demean and verbally abuse Plaintiff on account of Plaintiff’s liberal political views, and Plaintiff’s opinions and perspectives as an African-American male,” Harris’s lawsuit alleges. “None of Plaintiff’s three fellow producers on The Daily Ledger were ever subjected to verbal abuse or harassment on the basis of their opinions. Plaintiff was the sole African-American producer on the show.”
The complaint continues: “In addition to constantly berating Plaintiff on the basis of his political opinions and racial identity, on at least 3 separate occasions, Ledger made blatantly racist comments about people of ‘non-Caucasian’ races.”
The lawsuit also claims that Herring, who frequently attended the meetings, “confided in the Plaintiff” that he “had come to realize that he held racist beliefs and opinions about African-American people and other minority groups. Plaintiff was surprised by Herring Sr.’s candor, but also began to feel intimidated and distressed about working in an environment where more than one of his superiors had openly made racist statements about African-American people.”
The lawsuit alleges that Harris was eventually transferred to a different job after he made formal complaints about his treatment, but almost immediately he and Herring had their shoving match, and he lost his job.
Reached on his cellphone Friday, San Diego attorney Patrick Nellies—who’s defending Ledger, Herring, and his company in the trial—declined to comment.
In court, however, “Nellies said the feud between Harris and Ledger didn’t stem from race, but from Harris’ poor job performance,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “Even when Harris started his job in the production booth, he would argue his liberal politics to the point of being disruptive and distracting, Nellies told the jury. Harris was given warnings, but the behavior continued while on Ledger’s staff, the lawyer said.”
The Union-Tribune story added: “Both sides agreed that Ledger was not an easy person to work for—Herring Sr. even said he’d been yelled at by Ledger at times—but Nellies said no one would be able to testify to hearing Ledger ‘utter a racially discriminatory word toward African-Americans in his life.’”
Meanwhile, one of Harris’ attorneys, Britany Engelman, told the 12-member jury that the experience of working for Ledger remains “a nightmare he hasn’t woken up from.”
Harris’s lead attorney, Rodney Diggs, told The Daily Beast, “Regardless of whether it’s conservative or not conservative, anyone who’s in the workplace should not be treated differently because of one’s race.”
Asked what Harris could have expected when he went to work for a cable network with which he vehemently disagreed, Diggs said, “He enjoyed the healthy debate… He understood that he didn’t have the same political views of his colleagues—which was fine. But you don’t come to work and expect to be treated differently because of your race.”
Diggs said his client was not available for interview.