Parent company of abc27 refutes discrimination, retaliation claims

Nexstar Media Group Inc., which owns abc27, is refuting claims that the station and a manager discriminated against a Harrisburg-based news anchor and retaliated after she complained.

In an interview Friday morning, a Nexstar executive said decisions affecting the anchor, Flora Posteraro, had nothing to do with her gender or an anonymous complaint filed in August with the company’s human resources department.

“Her claims that this is retaliation are preposterous,” said Theresa Underwood, a senior executive vice president and regional manager with Nexstar, which is based in Texas.

Like many companies, Nexstar typically does not comment on legal or HR matters, Underwood said. But she said the company wanted to defend itself and abc27’s general manager, Robert Bee, whose alleged actions are the subject of a complaint filed by Posteraro with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, or PHRC.

In particular, Underwood noted what is being said on social media about the case, where, she said, claims of gender discrimination are being twisted into claims of sexual harassment, a separate category of complaints.

“The challenge … is that people are free to say and post anything they want on social media and businesses have to be respectful of the process,” Underwood said. “We don’t negotiate in public and, because this is pending litigation, it’s typically advised not to participate in public commentary. We are not going to try the case in the eye of public opinion. We are going to do it in the eye of the law and we are going to defend the decisions that we made vigorously because they are business decisions that were thought out, that were thoroughly vetted and approved by many different people.”

The company’s reaction did not surprise Posteraro’s attorney, Chuck Curley of the Conshohocken-based law firm Curley & Rothman LLC.

“Companies always say they do a thorough investigation and they always say they take it seriously,” Curley said. “That’s just a cliche. The fact is, what happened to this woman in this short period of time, falling from where she fell, the only explanation we think holds any water is the fact that they were retaliating against her.”

In her complaint with PHRC, filed March 22, Posteraro claims she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender and that the television station retaliated against her for complaining about Bee, who allegedly made derogatory remarks about women anchors after coming to abc27 in January 2017. He also is alleged to have based staffing decisions on gender.

Posteraro began working at abc27 in 1997, according to the PHRC complaint, which was first reported by Pennlive.

An initial complaint was made anonymously in August 2017 to Nexstar’s HR department. Underwood said the company thoroughly investigated the complaint, which remained anonymous.

“The company found no merit in the claims nor any violation of company policy,” Underwood said, noting that she herself would not tolerate inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Bee reports directly to Underwood, who is based in Syracuse, N.Y.

Posteraro’s participation in the anonymous complaint to HR was disclosed in her complaint to PHRC. The latter complaint said Bee knew Posteraro was interviewed in August as part of the investigation and was involved in the initial HR complaint. 

Posteraro’s retaliation claim hinges on the station’s decision in January to offer to move her from her position anchoring the weekday noon and 5 p.m. newscasts and instead making her a weekend anchor with reporting duties three days per week, and filing in as an anchor as needed, according her complaint.

Posteraro was offered the same pay, but she considered the change a demotion and complained to HR on Feb. 5, alleging it was an act of retaliation, according to the complaint to PHRC.

The company investigated and said there was no retaliation. Posteraro’s complaint said the investigation was incomplete, a claim rejected by Underwood.

“In the company’s perspective, it was full and complete,” Underwood said.

The move to a different schedule, Underwood said, was not a demotion and it was part of other changes planned at the station. Many stations are putting their top talent on a Sunday through Thursday schedule because ratings are typically highest on Sundays, she added. 

Underwood said it was part of broader changes planned for abc27 news. Nexstar Media purchased abc27, aka WHTM-TV, in 2016 as part of a larger deal.

“She’s not the only person whose schedule was going to be changed,” Underwood said, adding that the changes would affect both men and women.

“If we wanted her (Posteraro) gone we would not have offered her a new contract,” Underwood said. “We wanted her. We valued what she did. We valued her commitment to the local community, which is why we offered her a new contract.”

The decisions at abc27 stemmed from research done by Nexstar, including the use of focus groups, Underwood said.

Posteraro’s complaint said the focus groups, hosted in October, were “selectively picked to ensure a predetermined outcome.”

Underwood said the process was no different than what Nexstar does at its other stations. The company owns, operates or provides sales and other services to 170 TV stations around the country.

“It’s excellent research and it’s research that we use in markets larger and smaller than Harrisburg,” Underwood said.

Because Posteraro declined to accept the schedule change, she is seen as having resigned, Underwood said. She was told so by the company on March 12, according to her complaint.

Posteraro claimed she was given four explanations for the schedule change, explanations the complaint described as “inconsistent and changing.”

She took to Facebook to announce she was no longer at abc27 and that it was not her choice. Many people expressed sympathy using the hashtag #IStandWithFlora.

Curley, Posteraro’s attorney, said the change in schedule amounted to constructive discharge, a legal term referring to actions that cause someone to quit.

“What you do to get someone to quit is make their job miserable,” Curley said.

Under the process at PHRC, the company has an opportunity to respond to the PHRC complaint, which is followed by an investigation. 

Eventually, the commission determines whether there is or is not probable cause that discrimination took place. The two parties can settle the matter or, depending on what they learn during the PHRC process, they can head to court.

Joel Berg
Joel Berg is editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Northern Virginia and now living in York, he's a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College and the University of Maryland. Have a question or story idea? Email him at jberg@cpbj.com.

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