In the field of visual journalism, there is no question that appearance matters and image is important.
But there was once a time when a reporter’s older age was viewed as a highly-valued trait, something that offered an air of credibility to the broadcast. Think Walter Cronkite or Helen Thomas.
However, a recent Southern California age discrimination lawsuit reveals that, unfortunately, that stance might well have shifted within the industry, or at least in portions of it.
According to court documents, the case involves a Peabody Award-winning investigative journalist Frank Snepp, a seasoned reporter and published author. In addition to his broadcast work, his articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek, the Washington Post and McCall’s. As a former chief analyst of North Vietnamese strategy for the CIA during the Vietnam war, he has since written two books on the agency. He’s taught at Cal-State University at Long Beach and the University of Southern California.
He joined a local NBC affiliate in 2005, and the following year was awarded a Peabody for his four-segment investigation of the environmental impact of a massive commercial-residential project in Southern California. Since then, he’s launched some 200 investigations for the station.
But then last year, he was laid off, just shy of his 70th birthday. He was subsequently replaced by a reporter who was “substantially” younger and less experienced.
This was an individual who had very obvious and strong qualifications as both a tenacious investigative reporter and and producer. But the television station, according the lawsuit, seemed to consider that his value as an employee had dropped a great deal as he continued to age. He noted that his firing late last year is in line with other similar decisions made by the NBC affiliate and others. One of those involved a local news anchor who was forced out of his position four years ago, at the age of 67.
Snepp says that this is part of a “well-known youth movement” that has overcome the television news industry in recent years.
This was not something that escaped Snepp even as he still worked there. In fact, he reportedly made numerous complaints to his superiors at NBC, noting what he called “the gray problem.” He said that ageism manifested itself in a number of ways, and that he was not shy about voicing those concerns to his bosses. For example, older reporters were sometimes passed over for prime assignments or beats in favor of younger, less experienced reporters.
However, he says his superiors never took any steps to address these alleged actions – which violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act forbids age discrimination of workers who are age 40 or older in the realm of hiring, firing, job assignments, pay, layoffs, training, promotion, fringe benefits and any other condition or term of employment.
Snepp alleges in his lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, that in addition to his age, he was retaliated against for speaking out about the ongoing injustices.
He is seeking punitive damages both from NBC as well as Comcast.
Costa Mesa employment lawsuits can be filed with the help of the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Elderly Peabody Winner Slams NBC Firing, Oct. 3, 2013, By Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News Service
More Blog Entries:
Another Age Discrimination Case Settled by AT&T, Sept. 8, 2013, Costa Mesa Age Discrimination Lawyer Blog