TV news gets blasted all the time for being shallow and overly image-conscious. But do NBC11 news execs think they have a legitimate concern about one of their reporters having an epileptic seizure on camera? At least, that's an underlying question raised by reporter Traci Grant's recent lawsuit against her bosses.
According to her suit, Grant began having seizures a year after being hired at the station, and had to take a lot of time off. On October 24 of last year, she learned that her reporting contract would not be renewed in 2008. Human resources manager Judy Betro allegedly told Grant, "Because you have been sick and because you have had to take a number of sick days and because you have had seizures at work, we find you unreliable to do this job." NBC11, the complaint states, suggested Grant could work half-time or as a writer, which would have paid 50 percent less.
The fact that they wanted Grant at a desk rather than on camera raised suspicions that Grant's supervisors were worried about her having a seizure on the air. Grant's lawyer, former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto, says "that's exactly the reason they took her from on the air to writing."
Grant's claim also brings up an incident from April 22, when she had a coughing fit just before a live shot and appeared out of breath on camera. After she finished her segment, she received several text messages from people who were worried she was having a seizure, according to the lawsuit. When assistant news director Mark Neerman found out, he allegedly insisted to a colleague that Grant had had a seizure. In the complaint, Alioto denied her client had suffered an epileptic episode: "Everyone automatically assumes any time she sneezes that she is having a seizure, but that's not what happened."
Neerman couldn't comment because of the pending litigation, but he did want to clear up one thing: "She still works here," he said, correcting a story on SFist last week that said Grant had been let go. In fact, she was on camera just last month, reporting on gay nuptials live from City Hall without incident.
Neerman wouldn't say whether NBC11 was concerned about Grant having a seizure on the air, but those chances are small, according to Paul Garcia, a doctor in the neurology department at UCSF. On hearing that Grant had had only two seizures since last July and none in thelast nine months, Garcia said he expected she would have good seizure control and would therefore be permitted to drive. "To me, it's unjust to say it's safe to have somebody drive down the freeway, but not to allow that person to go on the air," he said.