Posted 4/28/2014 12:00 am
Sports broadcaster Mark Edwards has sued his former employer, KTHV-TV, Channel 11, alleging it didn’t promote him to sports director because he’s black.
Edwards presented his case in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock on Feb. 24, when he was still working at the Little Rock station. It is unclear exactly when he left the station or under what circumstances.
He couldn’t be reached for comment and one of his attorneys, Richard Quintus of Little Rock, didn’t return a call for comment.
Michael Caplan, the president and general manager at KTHV, referred questions to its owner, Gannett Co. of McLean, Va., but Gannett spokesman Jeremy Gaines didn’t comment specifically on the lawsuit.
“We are very proud of our history of diversity and fair treatment for all employees,” Gaines said in an email statement to Arkansas Business.
Edwards alleged he was doing the work of a sports director but was denied the title as well as the pay.
Winning a racial discrimination case in federal court can be difficult, said Theresa Beiner, a professor of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law.
Beiner, who wasn’t familiar with the facts in Edwards’ case, said employees have to show that they were qualified for the promotion and didn’t receive it “under circumstances that suggest discrimination.”
The employer then would have to give a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for making the promotion, she said. After that, it’s up to the plaintiff to show that the employer’s reason is false and “it’s more likely than not that discrimination” caused the difference in treatment.
Very few employers are “unsophisticated enough to say something that links the discrimination to the particular employment decision,” she said.
Often, the complaints don’t survive a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, meaning the cases are tossed out before the plaintiff even sees a jury.
“What has been studied in employment discrimination cases is that there is an anti-plaintiff bias in the federal court system,” she said. “And the courts are sort of reluctant to step in when it’s a subjective decision that is being made.”
Beiner said the lawsuit is easier to win when the reason for not promoting the plaintiff doesn’t seem to make sense.
Edwards said in the lawsuit that he was hired in 2003 as a sports reporter, a job he worked at for several years. In 2007, Edwards said, he was offered a sports broadcasting job in Cleveland that would have paid $87,000 annually.
But, according to the lawsuit, Larry Audas, the president and general manager at KTHV at the time, told Edwards that year that if he stayed in Little Rock, he would eventually be promoted to be top sports director at the station.
Edwards says in his complaint that he decided to stay based on that. He received a weekend morning show co-anchor position and did that for about four years.
In 2012, Wess Moore, the white sports anchor and director, left the company, and Edwards said he should have been given the job, but wasn’t.
By 2012, Audas had left the station and had been replaced by Caplan. Both Audus and Caplan are white.
“I was told that the Sports Director title would be eliminated,” Edwards said in a complaint he filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2013, which was attached to his lawsuit. “In December 2012, I was told I would not get the pay increase because I am under contract.”
The EEOC took no action on Edwards’ complaint.
In his lawsuit, Edwards also alleges that when a station in Arizona offered him a better job at the end of 2012, an officer at Gannett ruined his chances to get it. The Arizona station allegedly was told not to hire Edwards and he wasn’t hired, the lawsuit said.
Edwards is seeking an unspecified amount of damages. As of Thursday, KTHV had not filed a response to the lawsuit.
Arkansas Business and KTHV have a news partnership.