By NADIA PFLAUM
KMBC Channel 9 anchors Maria Antonia and Kelly Eckerman and reporter Peggy Breit filed a lawsuit yesterday afternoon against the local ABC affiliate and its parent company, Hearst-Argyle Stations, alleging that they were discriminated against because of their age and gender.
"The environment at KMBC-TV has transformed over time, from one of cooperation into a hostile environment, permeated with threats, intimidation and disrespect," the lawsuit reads.
Eckerman's complains include being transferred by KMBC General Manager Wayne Godsey to a Tuesday-through-Saturday shift in October 2007, without regard to her weekend schedule of attending "charity events" and her status as a single mom. When it came time for contract renewals, the lawsuit reads, Eckerman, who is 47, was informed that the station was looking "for the future" and told, "They don't see you as the future." After arguing that she brought up the No. 1 ratings on the weekday newscast she had anchored, the station responded, "We can hire two much younger women for what we pay Kelly."
The suit also lays out a description of a lunch date in Brookside at Carmen's Cafe between Godsey and Eckerman in which Eckerman was told, "You know, men can have a nice, long run in this business, and women, if they take care of themselves, can have a decent run, too. You've had a decent run." As for anchor Larry Moore, Godsey allegedly said, "As long as Larry continues to have the energy, Larry can anchor as long as he wants."
Fifty-four-year-old Peggy Breit's complaints center on Channel 9 bypassing her for promotions in favor of women in their 20s after Sherrie Brown became the station's news director. Brown changed Breit's schedule from Monday through Friday to Tuesday through Saturday (a demotion, according to the suit) and replaced her old slots with "much younger" Jana Corrie and 30-year-old Chris Nagus.
Maria Antonia, whose real name is Maria Albisu-Twyman, is 49 years old. The suit states that she was called into a meeting with Godsey "out of the blue" on October 19, 2007, and demoted from anchor to reporter. "You will never anchor at Channel 9 again," Godsey allegedly told Antonia. The suit states that Antonia is also regularly yelled at over her headset on-air and her schedule is changed without warning. Antonia was also passed over for an anchor position when Corrie was promoted on April 11, 2008.
According to the suit, female anchors are "oppressively criticized, targeted and harassed after they reach their 40s." The suit calls out Larry Moore, Len Dawson, Kris Ketz and Jim Flink as examples of older anchors who haven't received the same treatment as they have aged.
The Pitch left messages for Godsey at KMBC and Dennis Egan, lawyer for Eckerman, Antonia and Breit. Updates as they happen.
UPDATE: Trina LeRiche, the attorney for Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., gave The Pitch this statement:
Hearst Argyle Television Inc. denies the allegations made in this lawsuit. The company is and always has been an equal opportunity employer and neither tolerates nor practices discrimination or harassment of any kind. We have no further comments at this time.
LeRiche works for Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP.