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No Evidence of Age Discrimination in KPIX Reporter Termination

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 31, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's not easy to prove a TV discrimination claim, but that doesn't stop television personalities and hopefuls from filing employment discrimination lawsuits.

In April, two prospective contestants for The Bachelor filed a class action lawsuit against ABC for racial discrimination. In a far less publicized case out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, two television reporters lost their age discrimination claims on Tuesday after failing to provide proof that a TV station discriminated against them due to their ages, reports The Associated Press.

Under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, courts must analyze a discrimination lawsuit through a three-part analysis. The employee must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The employer can overcome the prima facie case of discrimination by producing evidence of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its actions. If the employer offer the necessary evidence, the employee must then present facts to show an inference of discrimination.

In the Ninth Circuit case, reporters William Schechner and John Lobertini were laid off following a directive ordering their network affiliate, KPIX-TV, to reduce its annual budget by 10 percent. They were 66 and 47 at the time.

Schechner and Lobertini sued KPIX alleging that the station discriminated against them on the basis of age and gender. A district court granted KPIX's motion for summary judgment, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

KPIX bosses had no complaints about Schechner and Lobertini's job performance, but they nonetheless decided to lay off Schechner, Lobertini and three other members of the KPIX "on-air" news team as part of a reduction in force necessitated by the CBS-mandated budget cut. (The other three on-air employees that KPIX laid off were 57-year-old Tony Russomanno, 56-year-old Manny Ramos, and 51-year-old Rick Quan.)

KPIX offered legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its layoff decisions.

Both the KPIX General Manager and News Director claimed that they first decided that news anchors would not be subject to layoff because they are the "face" of the station, and management wanted the reductions to be as invisible as possible to the viewing public. Then, they decided that they would lay off general assignment reporters based on next date of contract expiration. News Director Dan Rosenheim testified that they excluded "specialty reporters," (those focusing on a specific beat), because the station was promoting them and pushing the brand of the station. Schechner and Lobertini dispute whether KPIX followed that decision-making model.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that a plaintiff who relies on statistical evidence to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment bears a relatively low burden of proof, but the plaintiffs nonetheless failed because they did not carried their burden at step three of the McDonnell Douglas analysis.

While KPIX could blame its layoffs on the budget cuts, ABC and The Bachelor may not be able to offer similar justification in a race discrimination claim. Do you think that ABC will be able to offer a non-discriminatory justification for its casting decisions?

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