Thursday, October 16, 2008

Schechner, Lobertini sue KPIX for age, sex bias

Two veteran KPIX CBS 5 reporters, John Lobertini and Bill Schechner, who were laid off along with three other on-air personalities in March, sued the station today alleging age and sex discrimination.

Their San Francisco Superior Court lawsuit (CGC-08-480933) says the CBS-owned station "designed its workforce reduction process to eliminate older employees" and targeted "only male on-air talent" in making layoffs.

Before the downsizing, KPIX’s on-air talent pool consisted of 19 women and 17 men.

Others caught in the same round of layoffs March 31 were Manny Ramos, 56, Tony Russomanno, 57, and Rick Quan, 51. No female on-air reporters or anchors were let go, the plaintiffs' attorney, John McGuinn, told the Chronicle.

Schechner, 66, was at KPIX for 20 years while John Lobertini, 48, was there for nine. Neither has found a new job.

When contacted for a response, KPIX spokesperson Akilah Monifa said, “… the claims have no merit and we look forward to vigorously defending ourselves.”

The following is from a statement issued by the plaintiff's attorney:
    John McGuinn, Schechner's attorney, said, "The criteria KPIX used to accomplish its downsizing discriminated against its older employees: out of 240 employees, 14 were let go whose average age is 51.9. The remaining 226 employees' average age is 43.9. The statistical likelihood that there could be such a disparity in age, if age were not a factor in KPIX's decision, is less than 1/3 of 1 percent.

    According to McGuinn, all five of the fired KPIX reporters are men. The day before the layoff, the KPIX Web site listed 36 on-air talent: 19 women and 17 men. Five of the 17 men were let go. No women were let go.

    McGuinn specializes in discrimination law, and several years ago won a 6-figure judgment in a similar case brought by ABC7 reporter Steve Davis.

    Schechner is a 20-year veteran at KPIX. He worked at the station from 1976 to 1981 and again from 1993 to 2008. In the interim, Schechner worked at NBC News as a national correspondent for the "NBC Nightly News" and was co-anchor of "NBC News Overnight."

    He has anchored early morning and mid-day newscasts, covered politics, the arts, Patty Hearst, poverty, the murder of George Moscone, inner city violence, gay marriage and the lives of young people. He's reported world news and filed a regular TV column, "Schechner's Journal."

    He began on Bay Area TV as a reporter on KQED's "Newsroom" program from 1972 to 1976.

    "I've been around for a long time," Schechner said. "I know the history of the Bay Area — what's changed, what hasn't. My goal has always been to give voice to those who are often ignored. I wasn't finished when they laid me off. I simply want to go back."

    In the 80s and early 90s, Schechner was an anchor and national correspondent for NBC News. He's been recognized for his easy on-air manner and honored for his writing and story telling ability with two Emmys, a duPont Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Humanitas Prize.

    "I'm not ready to stop. There are still stories I want to do," Schechner added.
At right are Linda Ellerbee and Bill Schechner from "NBC News Overnight," the first national all-night news program.

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