Employment Law

Dallas EEOC Office ‘Hovers Over’ Alleged Age Bias by TV Station

The Dallas office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued a local TV station for age discrimination. The station’s on-air traffic reporter who circled over Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) traffic resigned, and a replacement needed to be found. The replacement, a 24-year-old, was allegedly unqualified for the position. The EEOC claims that a very qualified 45-year-old was rejected.TV

The Search Starts

“Heidi” started working as a freelance traffic reporter for Channel 11 in February 2013. She previously worked as a full-time traffic reporter for a rival television station in the DFW area. On October 31, 2014, Channel 11’s regular traffic reporter resigned, and the station sought a replacement.

Here is the highlight of the station’s job announcement: The “ideal candidate” for the position would have on-air traffic reporting experience as well as a strong knowledge of traffic patterns in the DFW area. And here’s the kicker: The “Required Qualifications” section of the job announcement stated, “Applicant must have at least 5 years of professional broadcasting experience.”

‘Pick Me, Pick Me!’

Heidi had the goods: the experience and the knowledge. In December 2014, the station hired a 27-year-old who allegedly lacked the basic qualifications it sought. Heidi was told that she had been aced out. However, the 27-year-old backed out of the job, and Heidi again told the station that she wanted the full-time job. But it was not to be.

This time, a 24-year-old who allegedly did not meet the job requirements was hired. News reports state that the 24-year-old is a former cheerleader for the Arizona Cardinals football team. Heidi went to the EEOC, and it decided to take up her case. EEOC v. CBS Broadcasting Inc., d/b/a CBS Stations Group of Texas, KTXA-TV and KTVT-TV (N.D. Tex., 2017).

Bottom Line

I will keep an eye out for developments. In the meantime, consider this: Words matter, and they matter a lot. If 5 years of experience is not really a prerequisite to getting the job, do not say “must have.” Try using “preferred” or “suggested.” The same goes for “strong knowledge” of local traffic patterns. And what’s with “ideal”?

I suppose you could say that “ideal” is just an aspiration and gives the employer flexibility, but it clashes with “must” and “strong.” Of such things lawsuits are made. By the way, the EEOC files only 250 or so lawsuits a year. It likely took this one because of the job posting’s language and the simplicity of the story line.

Michael P. Maslanka is an editor of Texas Employment Law Letter and can be reached at Michael.Maslanka@FisherBroyles.com.