Over ten years ago, former WFSB (Channel 3) news anchor Janet Peckinpaugh shook up the media market in Hartford with claims of gender and age discrimination against her former news station. She claimed that she had been let go because she had gotten too old.
At the time, the case had all the elements of a soap opera, including the testimony from a sitting Connecticut Supreme Court justice and sensational allegations involving another high-profile television news anchor. Respected journalist Mike Allen wrote a thorough piece about the claims in the New York Times.
Ultimately, a jury awarded her $8.3M for her claims; the court later reduced that amount to $3.75M. The parties later resolved the matter as the judgment was vacated.
I couldn’t help but think about that case when I learned that Fox 61 political reporter Shelly Sindland, all of 40 years old and yet a fixture at that station for 14 years, filed a complaint of gender and age discrimination (and retaliation) with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities earlier today. (Due to a work-sharing agreement between the CHRO and the EEOC, the complaint is automatically cross-filed with the EEOC too).
The entire complaint — filled with its own claims of lewdness and alleged inappropriate behavior — can be downloaded here. (As I have often preached before, readers should be aware that these are mere allegations, not proven, and the Company has denied comment on the matter. UPDATE: The Associated Press is reporting that the station would, once again have no comment on the matter)
But among the allegations Ms. Sindland has made in the Complaint:
- That fellow female anchor was asked to "appear on the news as though she were naked as part of a promotional campaign for her news reporting on April 1";
- That during a meeting with reporters and anchors Jan. 30, 2009, the Fox 61 news director stated that the "Friday newscasts looked like “Big Boob Fridays,” and the station’s ratings were up as a result of at least one female reporter wearing a tighter shirt. "
- That other older female anchors have been removed from various newscasts and replaced with younger women.
The attorney for Ms. Sindland, Elizabeth Conklin, provided the following comment to me via e-mail on Thursday afternoon:
As her complaint affidavit alleges, Fox 61 actively encourages younger women to ‘be sexy,’ and favors younger women and men of all ages over older, more experienced female on-air news professionals. It is always a difficult decision for someone who is still employed to file a complaint against their employer, particularly in this industry. The issues in the complaint have been raised by Shelly and others internally without any corrective action, however, and as a result, Shelly felt it was appropriate at this point to file a formal complaint with the Commission.
Ms. Sindland, who has her own blog, put up the following statement there which reads, in part:
I am doing this for my daughter as well as the other women at the television station both young and “old”. I do not in any way see this as a case of of “us” versus “them.” It is quite the contrary. I have come to think of the younger women at the station as friends and truly care about them. What is happening to me, is, by no means, their fault.
It’s just that, one day, they too will also be older and perhaps, mothers as well, and may not be considered “sexy enough.” The simple truth is that such issues should not be considered negative factors in a workplace – whether it is a factory or a television news organization.
I’ll discuss some of the legal issues flowing from this in an upcoming post; in fact, the complaint itself raises a whole host of factual and legal issues. For now, however, don’t expect to hear much about this after the next few days as it relates to the legal process. The company has at least 30 days to file a response with the state agency.
After that, the CHRO will issue a Merit Assessment Review within 90 days after the Complaint is received (basically determining whether the complaint is frivolous on its face — which probably isn’t much of an issue here) and, if it passes, then eventually set the matter down for a fact-finding and mediation. (The CHRO process is described here.)
Even then, don’t expect the case to linger with the CHRO. Unless some type of resolution is reached, I would expect Ms. Sindland to ask the state agency from a release of jurisdiction so she can bring the case directly to court (she must wait approximately 210 days from the date of filing to ask for such a release of jurisdiction).
And expect another soap opera involving some of the state’s media stars to begin again.
(H/T The Laurel)