A veteran political reporter at Fox 61 filed an age and gender discrimination complaint with the Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Tuesday.
Shelly Sindland, 40, who has been a reporter at the station for more than 14 years, alleges in the complaint that the station has engaged in a pattern of discrimination against older women at the station by demoting those over the age of 35 and paying some of the female reporters less than the male reporters.
The complaint “speaks for itself,” Elizabeth Conklin from the law firm of Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn, and Kelly said Tuesday afternoon. Conklin said once a complaint like this is filed the commission has more than 200 days to investigate and depending on the outcome of the investigation it may then become a lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that the station as recently as June 19 offered Sindland a contract which will decrease her salary by 18 percent or $13,000. In addition the station only offered to renew the contract for one year, not the traditional three year contract she had received in the past. According to the complaint, one male reporter was offered three years around the same time period.
The detailed, 18-page complaint alleges a pattern of age and gender discrimination within the Fox 61 organization.
“Big Boob Fridays”
According to the complaint, in January 2009 Laurie Perez, 38, was removed as weekend anchor and replaced by Sarah French, 23. During a meeting with reporters and anchors Jan. 30, 2009, Fox 61 New Director Bob Rockstroh 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. According to the complaint, then-General Manager Rich Graziano stated, “Hey, whatever works.”
When Sindland attended the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Hartford with her daughter March 14 on behalf of the station, she was initially told she would be riding in one of the two convertibles the station was driving in the parade. However, when she arrived she was asked to walk behind the convertibles because Erika Arias, who is younger than Sindland, would be riding in the convertible, instead. During that same event Perez, who was reporting on the parade, was instructed by the promotions director to “concentrate on the newer girls” when the Fox 61 team passed by.
In April 2009, then-34-year-old Rebecca Stewart was removed from her job as weekday anchor and moved to weekend anchor, which is considered a demotion. Stewart was replaced by the 23-year-old French. Prior to Stewart’s removal as weekday anchor, she refused to comply with Fox 61’s request that she “appear on the news as though she were naked as part of a promotional campaign for her news reporting on April 1.” The name of the campaign was “Naked News.”
The complaint also states that Stewart’s male co-anchor was not asked to appear as though he were naked.
“I’m sorry I got old”
Longtime news anchor Susan Christensen’s departure came next. On April 20, 2009, Christensen, who was in the midst of contract negotiations, told Sindland, “Oh, my God, they want me gone … I’m sorry I got old.” Sindland stated in the complaint that following her conversation with Christensen she inquired about the status of her own contract, which was scheduled to expire June 14. At the time, the complaint says, she received no substantive response.
On June 11, three days before Sindland’s contract was to expire, she was notified by the news director that her annual performance review was ready. According to the complaint, Sindland expressed concerns that she was receiving her review, which should have been completed in Dec. 2008, just a few days before her contract expired. It was the first negative review Sindland has received in the more than 14 years she’s been with the station, and was in stark contrast to the 2006 and 2007 reviews which refer to her as a “true team player.”
On June 15, the day after her contract expired, Sindland was notified via email that “The Real Story” was being moved from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and would appear after the new “The Stan Simpson Show,” which would air at 10 a.m.
That’s the time slot Sindland says she had been requesting for the past few years. Simpson, the Hartford Courant columnist and former WTIC 1080 AM radio host, also has two producers working on his show, while Sindland has none, the complaint states.
Andrea Savastra, corporate affairs and communications consultant for Fox 61’s parent company Tribune, said Tuesday afternoon in an email that the company does not comment on personnel issues.