Was Paula Lopez discriminated against for being an alcoholic?
September 16, 2016
Former news anchor Paula Lopez Ochoa is suing the parent company of her former employers, Central Coast broadcasters KEYT and KCOY, arguing discrimination based on her race, sex and disability led to her firing. Lopez’s disability is alcoholism.
Ochoa was arrested twice in the last three years. She was also the subject of a missing person search.
On Sept. 2, attorney Janean Acevedo Daniels filed the suit on behalf of Ochoa in Santa Barbara County Superior Court. NPG of California is the defendant in the case.
The suit contains 17 complaints, including termination in violation of public policy, sex discrimination, race discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation. Ochoa claims she was retaliated against for previously filing a discrimination complaint against KEYT.
Ochoa had complained that she was paid less than her white, male counterpart. She also complained about KEYT converting a makeup room into a studio, forcing her and other female employees to apply their makeup in the women’s bathroom.
The lawsuit alleges Ochoa was subjected to discrimination on a continuing basis between 2013 and Sept. 2015, when she was fired. Ochoa’s first arrest occurred in July 2013 and her second arrest took place in Sept. 2015.
During that period, Ochoa was demoted from KEYT to KCOY while her male counterpart maintained his position at KEYT at a higher wage, the suit states. Ochoa was also forced to sign a “Last Chance Agreement” under the threat of termination.
The agreement forced Ochoa to undergo random drug and alcohol testing, which violated her medical privacy rights, according to the lawsuit. Ochoa also alleges the last chance agreement led to her firing.
In July 2013, Ochoa was arrested near her Santa Barbara home on suspicion of driving under the influence. Earlier that year, she was reported missing by her family, which prompted a brief but intense search near her home.
On the evening of Sept. 6, 2015, Ochoa drove her Toyota Prius the wrong way on Highway 101. Sheriff’s deputies then found the Prius parked at a golf course in Goleta. When a sheriff’s deputy and a CHP officer tried to arrest her, she assaulted the officers.
Prosecutors said Ochoa drove with a blood alcohol content above .15 on the evening of her arrest. She refused to submit to a chemical test.
In April 2016, Ochoa pleaded no contest to one count of driving under the influence, two counts of delaying or resisting a peace officer, one count of refusing a chemical test and one count of battery on a peace officer. She faced 120 days in jail.
Lopez is married to retired Santa Barbara County judge Frank Ochoa. Frank Ochoa stepped down from the bench last year.