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Broadcaster Calls Gannett TV Racist

LITTLE ROCK (CN) - In a federal class action, an Arkansas sports broadcaster accuses Gannett and its THV Channel 11 station of running a racist workplace that makes it impossible for black workers to be promoted to lead anchor and management positions.

Named plaintiff Mark C. Nelson pka Mark Edwards sued Gannett Co. dba Today's THV Channel 11 in a 26-page lawsuit with 23 pages of attachments.

Nelson claims that Gannett ran a sophisticated scheme and cover "in the form of focus groups and other means and methods that are subjectively manipulated by Gannett to achieve its discriminatory goals and objectives."

According to the lawsuit, Gannett "has a corporate custom, policy, pattern, practice and procedure of not promoting African-Americans to director and leadership positions and utilizing a 'one-and-done policy' that disparately impacts African-American employed within the company."

Gannett, based in McLean, Va., is best known for its flagship newspaper, USA Today. Its chain of newspapers, TV stations and other media reach than 110 million people a month, according to the complaint.

Edwards says he began working for Gannett at THV Channel 11 in 2003 "in what is referred to as a 'number three' position" - editing and production, rather than sports anchor or broadcaster.

In 2007, he says, he was offered a prime sports broadcasting spot in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the nation's top 15 news markets. Apparently, the offer was from a competitor, which is not named in the complaint. "This broadcasting position provided a substantial increase in pay, promotion, terms, conditions, privileges and employment benefits. The position offered plaintiff the opportunity to cover and broadcast professional sports teams, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, (and) Cleveland Indians on television and also provided further advancement opportunities in major sports broadcasting venues. At the time of this offer, Larry Audas, the General Manager at THV Channel 11, approached plaintiff and advised plaintiff that defendant was opposed to him leaving. Mr. Audas, on behalf of Channel 11, advised plaintiff that defendant would promote plaintiff to a higher sports broadcasting position on weekends with the company, a number two position, and ultimately plaintiff would be on a 'fast track' for the number one position as sports director at THV Channel 11, if plaintiff stayed in Little Rock, Arkansas," according to the complaint.

Nelson says he stayed, and the Cleveland job went to someone else. He says he worked on the station's morning show for a week and was offered a weekend morning show co-anchor position.

The complaint continues: "After remaining in employment for several years with the defendant, in approximately May 2012, Wes Moore, a white sports anchor and director, left Channel 11. Plaintiff was in an optimum position to take over as the anchor and sports director with the attendant advertising, marketing, promotion and raise-in-pay that accompanies such advancement within the company. However, rather than offer this opportunity to plaintiff, instead, Channel 11 hired a white male with less sports broadcasting experience from another station in July-August of 2012. For reasons never explained to plaintiff, defendant did not provide plaintiff with an offer to be promoted, marketed or further advanced with the defendant as sports director, or anchor as was promised and represented by him."

In late 2012, Nelson claims, an Arizona station offered him "a substantial, meaningful and quality promotion, including an increase in pay, benefits privileges and television director and leadership advancement opportunity."

He claims that Gannett sabotaged that job offer: "(D)efendant concealed from the plaintiff that it retaliated against plaintiff. Defendant willfully and intentionally interfered with the Arizona offer of promotion to plaintiff and the advancement and opportunity for a better employment opportunity in Arizona. Defendant unlawfully retaliated because of plaintiff's race and in order to depress and keep plaintiff in Arkansas in an unequal and disparate employment setting for African-Americans, which defendant created, implemented and maintained throughout its company.

"Defendant concealed, suppressed and omitted the fact that it had directly and unlawfully communicated with the television station in Arizona and further omitted from plaintiff that defendant had provided false, racial stereotyped information about plaintiff's employment and work history with defendant. Defendant further manipulated evidence of focus groups to cast a negative impression on African-Americans and perpetuate its racial glass ceiling and denial of advancement opportunities for plaintiff and others similarly situated. Defendant's unlawful, retaliatory and unfair conduct and actions against the plaintiff terminated the employment opportunity, disparaging plaintiff's reputation in the television broadcasting community and maintain plaintiff locked in an unequal and disparate employment setting."

Nelson estimates the class includes "several hundred" people spread about the South. They are defined as "all African American employees employed within Gannett, in the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, North and South Carolina and Florida, who were denied promotion, equal pay and employment benefits."

Gannett recently bought Belo Corp. for $2.2 billion, creating the largest independent group of major network affiliates in the top 25 markets, according to the complaint. Gannett claims its TV stations reach one-third of American households.

"In sum, the overall employment atmosphere and attitude at the defendant is hostile toward recruitment, training, leadership, management and advancement of African-Americans into top broadcasting leadership positions and opportunities," Nelson claims.

He seeks class certification, restitution, and compensatory and punitive damages for Civil Rights Act violations, loss of prospective earnings and a court order "to enjoin the discriminatory practices."

He is represented by Phillip J. Duncan.

In a page attached to the lawsuit, "Dismissal and Notice of Rights," dated Nov. 26, 2013, the EEOC's Little Rock Area Office wrote, in a form letter: "THE EEOC IS CLOSING ITS FILE ON THIS CHARGE FOR THE FOLLOWING REASON:" - it then checked the fifth of seven boxes.

The fifth box on the form states: "The EEOC issues the following determination: Based upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes. This does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge."

Marked as Exhibit 2 is a 1999 lawsuit against Today's THV Channel 11 in which Richelle A. McCoy accused the station of racial discrimination.

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