Reporting by Garrett McCulloch
Documents released today defy Susan Hutchison’s reputation as a warm, popular evening news anchor. Now a Republican running for King County Executive, Hutchison sued her former employer KIRO television in 2003 for what she claimed was age and race discrimination after the station hired Kristy Lee—a younger, Asian woman—to take her place. Hutchison claimed she was “replaced in part because she is older and Caucasian,” according to court files released by King County Superior Court Judge Timothy Bradshaw.
When Hutchison discovered that Lee received time off over the 4th of July holiday in 2002—time Hutchison tried to get off work herself—she called in sick, according to the records. But she apparently wasn’t sick. “I heard that another KIRO employee had seen Hutchison canoeing in the Bend, Oregon area on those so-called sick days,” KIRO former general manager John Woodin said. On July 25, the station suspended Hutchison for five days.
Hutchison had other personnel problems at the station. She warned an intern’s mother that the station was a “bad environment, not a suitable place” for the intern, Woodin’s statement to the court says. Woodin said Hutchison claimed the station was a place of “drug abuse and sexual misconduct.”
“Hutchison’s actions concerning the July 4 sick leave and speaking poorly of KIRO to [the intern’s] mother were of concern to us but had nothing to do with her on-air assignments,” Woodin says in court records.
Her demotion appears to result from bad ratings and market research in prior years that found “the Raible/Hutchison anchor team ranked last among Seattle’s three main television stations on ‘newscaster evaluation,’ ‘newscaster comparison,’ and ‘reason to watch’ measures.”
The station offered Hutchison a lesser anchor position—host of the noon news and special assignments—which still paid $150,000 per year, records say. That was a 50 percent reduction in pay, Hutchison claims in court records. In September of that year, Hutchison took sick leave for a “stress related medical condition.” But she never returned to the station.
Strangely, the records also show that she believed her demotion was due, at least in part, to helping a coworker keep his job. In a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, Hutchison claimed that a five-day suspension and her reduction in pay were due to “going to the aid of a co-worker who was being wrongfully terminated from his position.” However, in March 2003 the board dismissed the claim, saying “the evidence showed there were too many other factors in Ms. Hutchison’s difficulties and they had been brewing for a long time.”
Hutchison made this video where she responds to the release of records, saying, "I am unable to comment on any aspect of this case, nor am I permitted to defend myself or vouch for the truth of any of this information. My lips are sealed, even as these documents are unsealed."
But her lips aren't sealed, really. A KIRO attorney said in court this morning that Hutchison is free to discuss the facts of the case. Judge Bradshaw agreed. “The defendants ... have stated now on the record that they would not seek to enforce this part of the [confidentiality] agreement,” he said.