By: David Barnhorn
Controversy arose in late September 2010 when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed suit against Fox News Network, L.L.C. (“Fox”), alleging age and gender discrimination resulting in unequal job opportunities and pay. Fox quickly denounced the charges as a political move by the Obama administration.
The dispute surfaced partially from a contract that was intended to limit the reporter, Catherine Herridge, from making additional discrimination claims against Fox. According to the EEOC, years earlier Herridge made several complaints to Fox alleging discriminatory practices. After dismissing the complaints for lack of evidence, Fox sought a new employment contract that not only made reference to the prior complaints, but that restricted her ability to make any subsequent complaints. Herridge insisted on the language’s removal resulting in a stalemate, and causing Herridge to temporarily become an “at will” employee.
Fox claimed that the charges, filed two years ago, were resolved in a letter from the EEOC. They stated that ninety-eight percent of Herridge’s claims were dismissed by the EEOC itself, and that any delay in her contract negotiations were due to salary demands. Dianne Brandi, Executive Vice President, Legal & Business Affairs for Fox News Corporation, said in a press release, “The EEOC’s suspiciously timed press release is nothing more than a partisan statement about a politically motivated lawsuit.”
Regardless of the merits of this particular EEOC lawsuit, one must wonder if age discrimination is abound in the journalism field based on its increased use of video and internet technologies, even by traditionally print-only mediums like newspaper companies. Further, this suit arose in the television medium, which arguably may be concerned with its reporter’s appearances.
Sources discussing the topic suggest this is not the first age discrimination suit in the field. In 2008, a British television anchor settled an age discrimination suit for an estimated £250,000 after the employer opted to hire two younger anchors to replace her position. This is merely one example of potential age discrimination in the television news industry, and is not a new phenomenon. An article from April 2000 by the Cincinnati Enquirer details multiple examples of possible age discrimination in the news field dating back to 1998. A report by U.S. News states that age discrimination has become more common than racism during the recession, resulting in individuals older than 45 suffering longer periods of unemployment and larger pay cuts upon finding employment than younger people.
The journalism field may need to look closely at how it makes its employment decisions to ensure the field can continue to prosper without risk of age discrimination litigation, whether that means careful decision making, new corporate strategies, or simply vigilant compliance with the law.
Press Release, EEOC, Fox News Sued by EEOC for Retaliation: National News Network Tried to Punish Female Employee for Complaining About Sex and Age Discrimination, Federal Agency Charges (Sept. 30, 2010), available at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-30-10k.cfm (suit filed as EEOC v. Fox News Network LLC, Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-01660 D.C. Dist. Ct.).
 See Steve Krakauer, Fox News Says Years-Old Discrimination Lawsuit is “Politically Motivated” by Obama Administration, MEDIAite, Oct. 1, 2010, http://www.mediaite.com/online/fox-news-says-years-old-discrimination-lawsuit-is-politically-motivated-by-administration/.
 EEOC, supra note 1.
 Krakauer, supra note 3 (claims Herridge demanded a 96 percent increase in salary after the first year of the contract, among other issues).
 Statement, Dianne Brandi, Exec. V. President of L. & Bus. Aff., Fox News Corp.(Oct. 1, 2010), available at http://www.mediaite.com/online/fox-news-says-years-old-discrimination-lawsuit-is-politically-motivated-by-administration/.
Paul Revoir, Selina Scott Settles Age Discrimination Claim with Channel Five for £250,000, MailOnline, Dec. 5, 2008, available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1092274/Selina-Scott-settles-age-discrimination-claim-Channel-Five-250-000.html (additionally discussing details of other instances of adverse employment decisions against television personalities).
John Kiesewetter, Channel 5 Adds a Woman Anchor, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Apr. 26, 2000, available at http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2000/04/26/loc_channel_5_adds_woman.html.
Bonnie Erbe, In Recession, Age Discrimination is More Prominent than Racism, U.S. NEWS, Apr. 13, 2009, http://politics.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/erbe/2009/04/13/in-recession-age-discrimination-is-more-prominent-than-racism (discussing a Bureau of Labor Statistics report).