Gender, Lawsuit of the Day, Women's Issues

Lawsuit of the Day: ‘Big Boob Friday’ Is A Problem? Who Knew?

Shelly Sindland Fox 61.JPGThere is an interesting employment discrimination complaint coming out of Connecticut today. A local news anchor claims that she was discriminated against due to her age and gender by Fox 61 (which is owned by the Tribune Company).
The forty-year-old Shelly Sindland (pictured) claims that she was the most senior reporter at the local news channel. But she claims that prestigious assignments and promotional considerations were given to younger women. Sindland also alleges that the Fox 61 working environment was less than ideal.
When reached for comment by the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, Sindland’s attorney had this to say about her client’s situation:

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.

How inappropriate was the behavior at Fox 61? Sindland’s complaint alleges the following:

* On or about January 30, 2009, during a meeting with reporters and anchors, on information and belief, Rockstroh stated that the Friday newscasts looked like “Big Boob Fridays,” and that as a result of at least one female reporter wearing a tighter shirts on Fridays, the station’s ratings did well on Fridays. On information and belief, Graziano was present and stated “hey, whatever works.”
* On or about February 25, 2009 the respondent held a photo shoot for several of its news anchors to be used in promotional pieces. During this shoot, on information and belief, the female anchors were told to be more “sexy.” On information and belief, male anchors were not instructed to be sexy.

This complaint is definitely “hot.” After the jump we have more excerpts from the complaint, and of course, pictures.

The heart of Sindland’s complaint isn’t just that Fox 61 created a hostile work environment. She also alleges younger women were given better assignments and better time slots. The complaint alleges:

Laurie Perez Fox 61.JPG* On or about December 28, 2007,1 was informed by news Director Bob Rockstroh that Laurie Perez, a reporter with no children and with less experience than me, would go to Iowa to cover the Iowa Caucus. I had pitched this story several times. I asked Rockstroh why, as the political reporter, I was not selected to go to Iowa, and I also expressed my disappointment that Laurie, and not I, was selected to go. On or about December 31, 2007, Rockstroh replied that he and Assistant News Director Amy Fabozzi-Mattison had not selected me because of “childcare issues,” including that I had “stress” about getting to the daycare center on time. I did not then, and do not now, have my daughter in a daycare center.

But Laurie Perez’s time in the spotlight was short lived. Sindland further alleges:

* In approximately January 2009, thirty eight-year old weekend anchor Laurie Perez was removed as the weekend anchor and replaced by approximately twenty-three year old Sarah French. On information and belief, Graziano stated to Perez that if Perez was upset about the removal as weekend anchor, that she could quit, since Graziano could hire two new younger reporters for Perez’s salary.
* On information and belief, French is a recent college graduate and former beauty pageant competitor. On information and belief, in approximately February 2009, news director Bob Rockstroh and General Manager Rich Graziano were showing male employees bikini pictures of French from her pageant competitions.

Without further ado, we present Sarah French:
Sarah French Fox 61.JPG
Yeah, I could see how a political reporter with over a decade of experience would have a problem if that picture was being passed around the office.
What does the Tribune Company have to say about all this? According to Sindland, here is the Tribune’s revised sexual harassment policy:

* On or about January 18, 2008, the respondent distributed a memorandum to employees titled “Creative Harassment.” The memo contained examples of what constitutes sexual harassment, and what does not. The memo stated: “Here’s a copy of the just-released ‘Tribune Policy Manual & Employee Handbook,” which goes out of its way to (re) define ‘Harassment, Sexual & Otherwise.” Among other things, the new policy stated “working at Tribune means accepting that sometimes you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use. You might experience an attitude that you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you might not consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, non-linear atmosphere is important to the creative process. This should be understood, should not be a surprise and is not considered harassment. Harassment means that you are being told that a raise, promotion or other benefit is dependent on you going on a date with your boss or some other activity. . . . Some people don’t know the line between lighthearted fun and annoying behavior.” On information and belief, the creative harassment policy was one of many changes to the respondent’s employee policy manual, which included the statement: “Essentially, as of December 20, 2007, Tribune company is a new company. Therefore, it’s fair to give you some help understanding the new culture we will be creating together, and how your judgment will be judged.”

These are all just allegations of course. But I’m pretty sure “bitch be cool” is not an affirmative defense to sexual harassment.
In any event, Shelly Sindland sees herself as defending the rights of all women through this lawsuit. On her personal blog she writes:

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.

At this point, the Tribune company has declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Fox 61 Reporter Files Age and Gender Discrimination Claim with CHRO; Is History Repeating Itself? [Connecticut Employment Law Blog]
MY COMPLAINT. [Shelly Sindland’s Blog]

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