KJZZ executive demoted after workplace investigation finds ‘thoughtless, sexist’ behavior

KJZZ Associate General Manager Mark Moran has been demoted after a workplace investigation found he had made sexist comments, drove his co-workers after drinking alcohol, and was untruthful when an investigator asked if he had kissed a former intern. 

The investigative workplace report, obtained by The Republic under the Arizona Public Records Law, said witnesses complained Moran made comments perceived as inappropriate and/or sexist.

“Examples include off-color jokes, often followed by an apology; personal questions to female subordinates, jokes about LGBTQ people,” the report said. 

An investigator hired by the Maricopa County Community College District, the public entity that holds the license for the National Public Radio-member station, also concluded Moran lied to her about kissing a former intern and texting the intern to tell her that he loved her. Moran’s denials continued even when he was provided with written evidence “that at least certain of your denials were false,” the report states.

The investigator, Jean Wilcox, interviewed 44 current and former KJZZ and National Public Radio employees after the district received an anonymous letter in December 2017 and a second complaint in March 2018. Many said they were hesitant to speak to investigators out of fear of retaliation, including citing how other “complainants” at Rio Salado had been reassigned to “undesirable jobs,” the report states.

The report found Moran violated two college district policies: willful and intentional failure to perform job duties, and dishonesty.

The report found as unsubstantiated claims that Moran sexually harassed an employee, drove his co-workers recklessly after consuming alcohol and created a hostile work environment. 

In an email to The Republic, Moran admitted that he had made mistakes and apologized for the trouble he had caused his colleagues. 

“I made careless comments in the newsroom that were perceived by some as insensitive. I feel even worse about that because anyone who knows me knows I would never hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose. It’s anathema to who I am as a human being,” he said. 

Moran said he makes no excuses for the behavior, but reiterated that the allegations of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment were unsubstantiated by the investigator.

The college district is demoting Moran, effective Sept. 12, from his position at the station. He will be a senior project manager with Rio Salado College’s marketing team. His pay was cut 5 percent, to $104,944 a year.

He was also ordered by the district to undergo sexual-harassment training and is forbidden from drinking alcohol while representing Rio Salado College, either on or off campus. 

How the investigation started

The investigation into Moran’s behavior began with an anonymous December 2017 letter containing allegations that Moran had sexually harassed and treated inappropriately female employees.

A written complaint followed in March, accusing Moran of putting an employee’s “life at risk” by consuming alcohol before driving employees.

One witness told investigators that during a business trip to Hermosillo, Mexico, on Jan. 17, Moran consumed four double-shots of tequila along with a liter of beer within a two-hour period and then insisted on driving everyone back to the hotel. 

A witness told investigators about feeling “extremely unsafe” given the amount of alcohol Moran had consumed.

The investigative report said Moran “minimized or couldn’t remember” the amount of alcohol he had consumed. He said he had a couple of shots, a Corona and a diet Coke at the bar. Then he said he had one beer on the patio.

“His account conflicts with that of the other witnesses,” the investigator wrote. 

The investigator concluded that Moran’s excessive consumption of alcohol at the bar and his insistence on driving posed a threat to his co-workers’ safety, but that he did not drive recklessly. 

In an email to The Republic, Moran said, “I did drink on a work trip. Along with the entire delegation that traveled to Hermosillo, Sonora. I was told by my former  supervisor that drinking on business trips is expected as ‘part of the Mexican culture.’  That was a mistake,” he wrote. 

Former intern accuses him of kissing her

Several women told the investigator that Moran made comments they considered inappropriate or too personal. Some described him as sexist with an “old-school” mentality about women in the workplace. 

The investigator found that Moran has a habit of making comments to subordinates that are not perceived as harassing, but are “thoughtless, sexist” behavior. She said the comments were not sufficiently severe or persistent to constitute sexual harassment. 

The investigation also found that Moran made “false statements” to the investigator when he denied kissing a former intern and telling her he loved her.

But the investigator concluded the alleged actions don’t constitute sexual harassment. 

At the time of the encounter, the former intern was no longer employed at KJZZ. The sexual harassment policy protects employees, the investigator wrote, “thus the protections do not apply in the case of a former employee/intern.”

The investigator went onto write that “Moran’s conduct with the former intern, someone he has known since 2013, brings into question his ability to separate his personal life from his professional life, his self-control and his judgement.”

The investigator wrote that when questioned, Moran denied telling the former intern that he loved her and denied kissing her on the lips. He told the investigator he couldn’t recall kissing her on the neck. 

“Moran said she latched onto him in the parking garage, he kissed her on the forehead like he would a daughter, and told her he was not comfortable with all the hugging,” the report said. 

 

Moran has worked for KJZZ since August 1998, coming to Arizona after establishing the State Capitol Bureau for Iowa Public Radio.

His station biography says he started his radio career in Alaska, where he covered mining, timber and politics. He was in Valdez, Alaska, after the Exxon oil spill and covered the environmental fallout and resulting regulation changes. 

In an email to The Republic on Thursday, Moran wrote that he is thrilled and excited to be part of the Rio Salado College marketing team. 

“As a brand journalist, I’ll be telling in-depth, context rich stories about issues that matter in our community and across the nation. In the end, though this was an extremely painful process, I am coming out a lot better in the end, and happy to be moving on,” he wrote.

Probe 1 of 4 at Rio Salado

The investigation into Moran’s conduct is one of four recent workplace investigations involving high-profile Rio Salado College employees. 

In late July, district officials announced that Jim Paluzzi, then the top executive at KJZZ, was retiring after a workplace investigation concluded he sexually harassed three employees and behaved offensively toward a fourth. 

Paluzzi, 62, disputed many of the report’s findings and said other findings had been taken out of context. 

The employees, all men, accused Paluzzi of unwanted touching of their thighs, backs or arms, and other conduct that made them uncomfortable and unsure how to respond given his powerful position at the station. 

An investigator hired by the college district concluded Paluzzi’s conduct was unwelcome because of the “power differential” between the vice president and the employees. 

Also this year, LeRodrick Terry, Rio Salado College’s vice president of student affairs, resigned effective June 30 after a workplace investigation found he sexually harassed, inappropriately touched or stared at several women. He has denied the allegations, saying the investigation was incomplete and reached false conclusions.

Another investigation focused on whether college leadership responded appropriately to allegations when they became aware of them. Rio Salado College President Chris Bustamante announced his retirement in early August after a workplace investigation was critical of the community college’s response to complaints of sexual harassment.

The report said Bustamant “failed to take effective action” after learning one of his vice presidents, Terry, was accused of sexual harassment in March 2016. 

KJZZ and The Arizona Republic work as partners on various news stories, broadcasts and public events, but the two are separate news entities.

Reach the reporter at 602-444-8072 or anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com.

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