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Last published at August 7, 2009 at 7:10 PM

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Records: KIRO says 'sick' Hutchison went canoeing

King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison was suspended from work at KIRO-TV for lying about being too sick to work over a holiday in 2002. In the first, incomplete set of documents unsealed by a court order today, KIRO officials said Hutchison called in sick for July 4 and 5, 2002, after the station had told her she couldn't take vacation days then.

Seattle Times staff reporter

King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison was suspended from work at KIRO-TV after calling in sick over the Fourth of July in 2002 and then being spotted canoeing in Oregon.

She had asked for vacation for those days but was turned down, according to a first, incomplete set of documents unsealed by a court order today.

According to the records, KIRO officials said Hutchison called in sick for July 4 and 5, 2002. But she was seen by a KIRO employee canoeing in Oregon on those "so-called sick days," KIRO General Manager John Woodin said in an affidavit included in the court records.

Woodin said that when he asked Hutchison about her time off she apologized and admitted a family vacation had been planned for the holiday. The station suspended her for five days.

The records are from Hutchison's 2003 discrimination lawsuit against KIRO-TV, her employer for 20 years. A King County Superior Court judge today ordered the records unsealed after news organizations, led by The Seattle Times, argued they were improperly kept secret.

According to Woodin's affidavit, Hutchison told station officials later in 2002 that she was suffering from a "stress-related medical condition and would not be able to work until further notice."

In notes Hutchison wrote about the lawsuit, she said the station had "worn me down physically and emotionally" with its effort to "diminish me in the eyes of the viewers, my colleagues" and the TV industry.

Hutchison was replaced in 2002 as evening news anchor by a younger Asian-American woman. Hutchison claimed in her lawsuit that she was a victim of age and race discrimination.

But the records contain reports from KIRO that its evening news was the lowest-rated among Seattle network affiliates. KIRO also said that Hutchison rated lowest among evening anchors except for one period in October 2000 when Dennis Bounds of KING-TV was the lowest.

In the documents, Hutchison said she was suspended and replaced as an anchor by KIRO because she went to the aid of a co-worker who she said was being wrongfully terminated. She made that argument in a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board.

But the board determined there was insufficient evidence of retaliation.

King County Superior Court Judge Timothy Bradshaw ruled today that almost all of the records in Hutchison's suit should be unsealed. Bradshaw said the records would be released "as soon as possible."

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The first batch of records unsealed today have Hutchison depicting KIRO as an unseemly workplace. She warned the mother of a young woman that it would not be a good place for her daughter to work because of "sexual misconduct and drug abuse," according to Woodin's affidavit.

Woodin said that when he confronted Hutchison about this, she told him she should never have discussed the station with the woman's mother.

KIRO contended that Hutchison's statements to the woman's mother were false. The station's lawyers also argued that had Woodin known "the full extent of Hutchison's conduct, he would have fired her immediately."

In a written and videotaped statement after the judge's ruling today, Hutchison said her suit against KIRO prepared her for public office.

"There is no doubt that the hard road I chose in fighting against discrimination so many years ago also prepared me for the rigors of this campaign, and the demands of serving in public life."

Hutchison's statement claimed she is still muzzled by a 2005 confidentiality agreement with KIRO and unable to discuss the case and KIRO's allegations about her.

But Bradshaw, the judge, said, "As to the muzzling argument, it is sufficiently clear that's not the case."

After Bradshaw's ruling, Hutchison's attorney Jon Rosen said he expected Hutchison would rebut some of KIRO's claims.

Hutchison's campaign manager insisted that Hutchison was still unable to talk about the lawsuit because of the confidentiality agreement.

"As far as we're concerned she's still bound by it. We don't believe he (Bradshaw) has jurisdiction to release her from the confidentiality agreement," said Jordan McCarren.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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