KJZZ executive demoted following investigation of staff complaints

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A longtime newsroom leader at Phoenix’s KJZZ was demoted Thursday after the station’s licensee found evidence that he had violated workplace policies.

Associate GM of News Mark Moran was placed on paid administrative leave in May along with the station’s former top executive, Jim Paluzzi. Paluzzi retired in July following an investigation into harassment claims.

Moran, who has worked for KJZZ since 1998, received a 5 percent pay cut and was moved to a new position in marketing at Rio Salado College, where the station is based.

Moran was demoted for cause, according to a disciplinary letter by J. Elliott Hibbs, COO of the Maricopa County Community College District. The district holds KJZZ’s license. Hibbs cited numerous incidents that were the subject of an investigation by MCCCD, which included Moran kissing a former KJZZ intern and driving station staff members to their hotel after drinking alcohol during a work trip.

Employees also reported that Moran “made comments in the workplace” that were perceived “as inappropriate and/or sexist,” the letter said. These “included off-color jokes, often followed by an apology; personal questions to female subordinates; jokes about LGBTQ people; comments about having to be politically correct in the context of reporting on transgender issues; condescending or paternalistic comments to young female employees.”

The letter also said that after reports of Michael Oreskes’ resignation from NPR following claims of sexual harassment, Moran asked female staffers at KJZZ if he had ever harassed them or done anything inappropriate.

A KJZZ news article quoted Moran apologizing for his comments. “I’m really sorry for offending people with what were perceived as insensitive comments in the newsroom,” he said.

Investigation alleges untruthful response

Attorney Jean Wilcox investigated Moran’s conduct after KJZZ’s licensee received an anonymous complaint in December alleging sexual harassment by Moran and a second complaint in March from a KJZZ employee.

The investigation, which was posted on KJZZ’s website, determined that Moran had not violated university policies regarding sexual harassment or hostile work environments but suggested that he complete sexual harassment training. But Hibbs said that the incidents violated university policy pertaining to “willful and intentional failure to perform job duties that have first been communicated to an employee and are within the employee’s scope of employment.”

In the letter, Hibbs also cited a policy prohibiting “dishonesty or dishonest actions” and said Moran was “not truthful” when he told Wilcox that he had not kissed a former intern. The intern wrote a letter to Paluzzi in March stating that after meeting Moran for breakfast in September 2017, “Moran kissed her several times on the lips and continued to kiss her down her neck. … She thought Moran’s conduct was inappropriate.” The intern was no longer working for KJZZ when the incident took place.

Moran admitted to kissing the intern on the forehead but denied kissing her on the lips and “couldn’t recall kissing her on the neck,” the report said.

Moran told KJZZ that it was “not accurate that I was untruthful to the investigator. I felt that things were said about me that I needed to correct and set the record straight.”

The investigation also detailed incidents involving excessive alcohol consumption during a business trip earlier this year to Hermosillo, Mexico, where KJZZ recently opened a news bureau.

During the trip, a group of KJZZ employees went to a restaurant where the complainant witnessed Moran drink “four rounds of double shots of tequila and a litre of beer with each double shot within a two-hour period,” according to Wilcox’s report. After the second round, Moran “stood up shaking, nearly falling over, and yelled at a waitress for the bartender’s number,” the report said.

Moran later drove the employees back to their hotel, according to the report, and drove a group of staffers after drinking the following night as well.

Wilcox said in the report that Moran “minimized or couldn’t remember the amount of alcohol he consumed.” While Wilcox found that Moran’s drinking and driving the employees to their hotel “posed a threat to their physical safety,” she said “he did not drive in a reckless manner.” She concluded that Moran did violate university policy in the incidents.

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