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Inside the Sexual Harassment Scandal Plaguing a Latino TV Network

Variety logo Variety 1/11/2017 Gene Maddaus

On Facebook, Karla Amezola came off as a fun-loving TV news anchor. She posted candid photos of the team at Noticias 62 — the flagship station of the Estrella TV network — alongside news from Latin America, vacation photos from Caribbean beaches, and family photos from Tijuana.

But occasionally she would post something darker and more cryptic. Beginning two years ago, she would write fictional stories about a woman named Olivia, who was struggling with an abuser. She produced more and more “chapters” in which she detailed the abuser’s manipulations.

In June 2016, she wrote that Olivia had been subject to “years of innumerable, incessant and filthy petitions, those that come into your mind and consume you little by little.”

Olivia — also a reporter — resolved to make use of the tools of her job to expose the abuse. Amezola’s Facebook friends didn’t know quite what to make of this, and began to ask if she was OK.

Then she dropped a bombshell.

In a lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court, she alleged that Andres Angulo, Estrella’s vice president of news, had been sexually harassing her for years. When she refused his advances, according to the suit, she lost her anchor chair on the 5 p.m. broadcast. The suit quoted Angulo directly — “Do you want to see my cock?” “I’m dying to f— you” — because Amezola had been secretly taping him for years. “She recorded session after session,” says Dan Levy, a former producer at Estrella. “There are hours of recordings.”

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A CHARGED ENVIRONMENT: Clockwise from top: Andres Angulo, Karla Amezola, Lupita Peimbert, and Ruby Campos

The scandal bore a striking resemblance to the one at Fox News, which exploded around the same time, when former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit against the network’s influential CEO, Roger Ailes. Carlson’s claims, and harassment allegations by other women, led to the forced resignation of Ailes within weeks. But whereas Carlson was paid a $20 million settlement and Ailes was ousted, there has been no such accountability at Estrella TV. Aside from a few articles in the Spanish-language press, the story has gotten little attention. Angulo continues to work as news director.

And Amezola seems unlikely to walk away with a significant settlement. A clause in her contract mandates that all disputes be settled in arbitration. Her attorneys are arguing that the clause should not apply, and a hearing on that issue is set for March 1. But even if she gets into court, she will have difficulty introducing the tapes, because California law requires both parties consent to recording.

Meanwhile, remarkably, Amezola continues to host the 11 p.m. news. Though she no longer reports directly to Angulo, it has nevertheless created an awkward situation at the station’s Burbank, Calif., headquarters.

Amezola is far from alone. In recent weeks, Variety spoke with dozens of current and former Estrella employees, many of whom related similar stories about Angulo and other male supervisors.

Liberman Broadcasting, the privately held company that owns Estrella, has faced numerous lawsuits alleging various forms of harassment. But due to the arbitration clauses, many of those lawsuits have gone nowhere, ending in private payouts for modest sums. According to the former employees who spoke to Variety, the result is a workplace where harassment is endemic.

Liberman Broadcasting refused to make executives available for interviews, and declined to comment on specific allegations. “LBI Media has a strict policy against harassment,” says spokesman Marco González. “We pride ourselves on diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our business, and take these allegations very seriously.”

Estrella is an upstart in the world of Spanish-language broadcasting. The two titans in the sector — Univision and Telemundo — built their networks on the popularity of telenovelas. Estrella, which began with a few local stations in the late 1990s before launching as a national network in 2009, tried a different tack: racy and provocative reality shows. The company was unafraid to offend with its programming. Especially egregious was “Jose Luis Sin Censura” — a Jerry Springer-type show that featured routine misogyny and anti-gay slurs. (The show was canceled after years of complaints to the Federal Communications Commission.)

Such attitudes were commonplace behind the scenes as well, according to lawsuits filed by former employees. The suits — more than a dozen in the last decade — allege harassment of gay men and routine and unwanted sexualization of women.

In 2008, sisters Barbara and Lis Ayelene Magrini each filed suit alleging that they were repeatedly sexually harassed while dancing in skimpy clothes on Liberman shows. According to the suits, CEO Lenard Liberman took a personal interest in the shows, pushing the women to behave sexually and flirtatiously on camera, including rubbing their breasts on audience members.

Barbara, who was 17 when she started the job, also alleged that male performers repeatedly groped her and made inappropriate sexual comments. Her suit alleged that Liberman “observed the sexually offending behavior and did nothing, whatsoever, to intervene.”

A supervisor allegedly told the sisters they had no right to complain because they were undocumented, according to the suit. The lawsuits were resolved in a confidential settlement, according to Richard Lloyd Sherman, who was Liberman’s attorney.

“In Latino culture, it’s like, ‘oh, you probably provoked it.’ you get in this place where you’re thinking maybe it was your fault.”
Lupita Peimbert

In another lawsuit, a former news director and part-time anchor said that he was taken off the air because Liberman thought he “looked gay on set.” In another, a Mexican comedian alleged that he was fired from a show when management discovered that he was gay. A female anchor alleged that she was called “Miss Boobs” in the newsroom.

Two former employees said Liberman would personally select revealing clothing for the female hosts.

In the early 2000s, Lupita Peimbert was a reporter at KSTS, the Telemundo affiliate in San Francisco, when Angulo was hired as a senior producer. Peimbert was young, and used to getting inappropriate comments on her body, which she tried to laugh off. But, she says, Angulo was different. One time, she remembers him saying, “If the way you fight in the newsroom is how you f—, oh, man, I can just imagine.”

One night, he called her around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., and said, “I just want to f— your brains out.”

“When someone is your boss and has some authority over you, it does not matter how upset you are. You try to keep it civilized,” she says. So instead of turning him down flat, she deflected, suggesting they get dinner instead.

“I wish I had just hung up right away or really let him have it, but I didn’t.” She turned him down politely, but she was shaken.

Afterward, she felt that her status in the newsroom was diminished. She also felt she could not tell anyone. “In Latino culture, it’s like, ‘Oh, you probably provoked it,’” she says. “You get in this place where you’re thinking maybe it was your fault.” All of a sudden, she says, Angulo started giving her bad assignments, and she felt her work wasn’t respected. She filed a complaint that went nowhere, and ultimately quit. (NBC Bay Area, which oversees the Telemundo station, declined to comment.)

“I wish I had been like Karla and recorded everything,” she says.

Angulo’s career continued to thrive. In 2005, he was hired as executive producer at the Univision affiliate in Los Angeles — the largest market for the most popular Spanish-language network. There, he had more power over hiring and firing.

Mirna Gonzalez, a makeup artist who worked at the station, says that Angulo “was known to be a mujeriego — a womanizer.”

Gonzalez also worked as a masseuse, and Angulo once had her come to his house to give him a massage.

“He insinuated that I should sleep with him. I was like, ‘F— you.’” she says. “People were afraid to complain because they didn’t want to lose their jobs.”

A freelance employee at Univision, who asked not to be identified, says Angulo became fixated on her, often hugging and touching her, and lavishing her with inappropriate compliments. She was in her early 20s, with no experience. She says she felt grateful to Angulo for hiring her.

Once she made it clear that she would not sleep with him, she says, Angulo cut the number of days she was allowed to work, and she left the station. She no longer works in the industry. “I wish I would have had the courage to call him on it,” she says now. “But the environment didn’t lend itself to allow people to speak up.”

Univision declined to comment for this story.

Former employees and legal complaints portray Liberman Broadcasting as a difficult place to work, with long hours and meager salaries. At best, it could be a place where recent college grads could get a little experience before trying to move on to bigger employers like Telemundo.

The company also provided a landing spot for older broadcasters who left the bigger networks. Enrique Gratas, a legendary broadcaster, was hired to do a news show for Estrella in 2010, shortly after Univision let him go.

In 2013, a news producer on Gratas’ show sued Liberman for harassment and discrimination. The producer, Aitana Vargas, accused Gratas of sexually objectifying her and other women. She claimed that he once offered her a chance to be on air if she would dress provocatively and talk about “sexy” men. She refused. She also claimed that Gratas bullied her because she was from Spain. (Gratas died in 2015. Vargas’ claims were relegated to private arbitration.)

Rather than fight a legal battle, some reporters left as soon as they could. A former entertainment reporter, now working in another market, says that a Liberman Broadcasting producer encouraged her to wear tight-fitting clothes. He repeatedly complimented her via text message, making her uncomfortable, and tried to get her to go to dinner. She left after six months. The producer is still with the station.

Angulo left Univision in 2010. According to Amezola’s suit, Angulo was fired for sexual harassment. Four current and former employees said the company conducted a harassment investigation, interviewing numerous women, after which it was announced that Angulo would depart.

Nevertheless, Angulo was hired as VP of news at Liberman the following year. According to one executive, who viewed Angulo favorably, Angulo was seen as a skilled newsman. Even though he was Colombian, Angulo displayed a deep understanding of the Mexican-American audience. This executive does not believe the sexual harassment allegations against Angulo, and argues that Angulo is not the one pushing for more revealing outfits.

“This approach to how to represent women on screen is not Andres’ approach,” the executive says. “It’s Liberman’s approach.”

Ruby Campos, a news reporter when Angulo was hired, says he behaved professionally at first, but once he got comfortable, he began making sexual comments. Campos, who was on the 11 p.m. local broadcast, wanted to travel for stories. One day, she says, Angulo told her to meet him at a restaurant after her show to discuss it.

“He said he saw potential,” Campos says. “Then that’s when he started mentioning that he could help me, but how was I gonna help him.” He suggested going to his place. She didn’t turn him down flat but kept putting him off. She never became a national reporter and ultimately left the news business.

Angulo would often lavish attention on women in the office, says Renan Cardona, a former sports anchor.

“He follows them into the makeup room and takes pictures,” Cardona says. “He always wanted to be around the women.”

At some point, Angulo turned his attention to Amezola. According to her lawsuit, he would call her into his office and brag about his sexual exploits. He showed her nude photos of her female co-workers, and repeatedly begged her for sex. Once, according to the suit, he grabbed her wrists and forcibly kissed her.

She began to find ways to avoid him, asking co-workers to call her with an urgent message as soon as she stepped into his office. She also had co-workers check the parking lot to see if his car was there. If it was, she would take the back staircase to avoid passing by him.

According to Levy, she once considered quitting and moving to Africa. Instead, she began taping Angulo’s conversations. In one, Angulo accused Amezola of taunting him: “You are always doing this to me. I am like a horse with a carrot in front of me. I think I have the carrot, but I can never get it.”

Amezola took her complaints to human resources. Levy became involved in the resulting inquiry, and supported Amezola’s claims. Around the same time, another anchor, Adriana Ruggiero, also complained to HR that Angulo had encouraged her to show her breasts more on air because “Liberman wanted her to look sexier.” Soon after, Levy and Ruggiero were let go. Ruggiero has since sued. Liberman Broadcasting is seeking to force the case into arbitration. Levy says he believes he was retaliated against for backing Amezola.

In June, Amezola filed her bombshell lawsuit. An internal investigation is ongoing, according to Amezola’s lawyer. But for now, Angulo is still the VP of news. The company hired a female executive to oversee the local news, so Amezola no longer reports to Angulo.

“She’s very brave,” says Socorro Cruz, a former Estrella reporter. “More girls live in fear and stay quiet. I’m sure she’s the voice for many girls.”

Amezola — whose lawyers declined to make available for an interview — wrote one last defiant Facebook post in early December. In this one, she dropped the “Olivia” character.

“I’m supposed to come to work and not prostitute myself for a job,” she wrote. “I was supposed to help my family by my professional merits and not by the size of my breasts.”

“He’s still here, but so am I. And I do not go until there is justice.”

She closed by addressing Angulo directly: “Resign, Mr. Vice President.”

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