LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Karla Amezola's gaze through the television screen connected with thousands of Los Angeles viewers, who for more than five years followed her rise from reporter to news anchor. Now her contact with Angelenos is of another kind: Karla criss-crosses the streets of the city as a driver for Uber and Lyft.
The young journalist, originally from Tijuana, Mexico, turned to driving as a temporary employment alternative after she was fired by Estrella TV in March.
But the reason for her dismissal, the anchor explains, had nothing to do with job performance. Instead, Amezola says it came after she accused her boss, Andrés Angulo, of many years of sexual harassment. He was the channel's vice president of Spanish-language Estrella TV, owned by Liberman Broadcasting Inc.
"I started working at Uber and Lyft because I have to pay rent and I have to eat and I want to continue supporting my family in Mexico," Amezola told Univision News.
As a reporter, she heard many stories of immigrants coming to the United States to help provide their families a better life, often finding themselves out of work but able to keep moving forward because they refused to give up.
"Those immigrants are an inspiration for me, so when I lost my TV job I didn’t have to think about it very much. Work is work, and honest work is always dignified, so I found this temporary option because I’m not thinking of changing my career. I am a journalist and I will be a journalist for the rest of my life, while I manage the bumps in the road with Uber, " she said.
Reporter behind the wheel
Amezola is confident that she will continue to do journalism despite warnings that she would never get another job after she filed her sexual harassment lawsuit last year.
"I have the same possibilities as any other journalist, I believe in my work, I like my job,” she said. “I'm a professional, I know how to work as part of a team and that's what companies look at."
Being behind the steering wheel has connected her more with the community she covered, she said.
"Some passengers have recognized me and show me their support and respect, that is priceless for me," she said. "Then they begin to share their stories of struggle and I feel like a reporter again because I start interviewing them, but without a microphone or notebook."
From awards to firing
After complaints she filed with the company's human resources department were not successful, Amezola filed a civil suit in June 2016 with the Superior Court of Los Angeles. When the case was made public in September 2016, the television station kept Angulo on and hired a new producer, Andrea Ospina, to manage Amezola.
Months after Karla reported that her boss had been harassing her for years, she began to notice strange behavior from her superiors and to suspect that the company wanted to get rid of her. First, they sent her several emails about her performance, one of them while she was on vacation abroad.
"She (the producer) started to criticize what I was wearing, my hair and even said that I had to lose weight. I almost quit, but I swore I would take it until he (Angulo) was out," Amezola told the media.
Despite being the only reporter for Estrella TV who has been nominated for the Emmys by the Television Academy, as well as winning two Golden Mike awards for the company, on March 2 she was fired on the grounds that she did not meet the company’s quality standards.
Hours before, Angulo had submitted his resignation.
That month, Amezola was nominated again for an Emmy, for a report produced before her dismissal.
Other employees have since exposed their cases of alleged sexual harassment within the same company, which is using the arbitration process to prevent the case from reaching the courts.
Amezola’s attorneys cite the case of another Estrella TV anchor, Adriana Ruggiero, who was terminated in April of last year. She also filed a lawsuit saying she was fired after reporting Angulo for sexual harassment.
Amezola's case may well be the Hispanic television-equivalent of Gretchen Carlson, the news anchor who sued for sexual harassment and toppled Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Carlson was awarded a $20 million settlement, received an apology from the company and is now writing a book and making a documentary on sexual harassment.
For now, Karla Amezola is making a living as an Uber driver.
"I will continue to drive with my hands on the steering wheel, keeping my eyes on the road and my head very high," says the journalist.