NEW YORK – A veteran "60 Minutes" (search) staffer sued CBS on Wednesday for alleged age discrimination and defamation, charging that the network used the flawed report on President Bush's National Guard service as an excuse to try to ease her out.
Esther Kartiganer (search), 67, filed the lawsuit on the last day that Dan Rather (search), the newsman who presented the Bush report, appeared as anchor of the CBS evening news after 24 years. Rather, 73, will continue as a full-time "60 Minutes" reporter.
Kartiganer said in court papers that her defamation claim is based on a statement by Leslie Moonves (search), CBS chairman and chief executive officer, on the network's Web site Jan. 10.
In that statement, Moonves said Kartiganer had "abnegated her assigned function" and "CBS News is the worse for it." Moonves made his statement on the same day that an independent panel issued its report on the Bush report.
Kartiganer says in court papers that her role in the story's airing was minimal. She says she was directed on Sept. 7 to read transcripts to make sure excerpts of interviews were not used out of context.
Kartiganer says she had already been demoted when she was removed as senior producer of "60 Minutes" in May 2004 and made senior producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday."
She says she was replaced at "60 Minutes" by a woman 20 years younger, which is part of the basis for her age discrimination claim. She says she was stripped of her senior producer title and her pay was reduced by 20 percent.
It was on "60 Minutes Wednesday" that the Bush military service report appeared on Sept. 8.
Dana McClintock, spokesman for CBS' parent company, Viacom, issued a statement saying Kartiganer was not terminated by CBS but was transferred to a new position because of the findings of the panel that investigated the Bush report.
Kartiganer's lawsuit asks for back pay, bonuses, benefits and unspecified compensatory damages for "emotional distress, humiliation, pain and suffering." It also seeks punitive damages for the "willful and/or reckless disregard" of her rights.