Identity

'They Shun Us in the Newsroom': NY1 Women Who Sued For Discrimination Say They're Facing Retaliation

Five NY1 anchors and reporters filed a lawsuit last year alleging gender and age discrimination at the New York news channel. Since then, they've felt isolated and further sidelined.
May 7, 2020, 12:00pm
NY1 Plaintiffs (1)
Photo credit: Wigdor LLP

Last June, five female anchors and reporters at the New York cable news channel NY1 sued their employer, alleging systemic gender and age discrimination. The women, who collectively had more than a century of experience at the network, claimed in the lawsuit that the network had “blatantly marginalized them” and “cast them aside” in favor of younger and less experienced women and men.

Since then, the situation has only gotten more tense. All five women and three former NY1 employees told VICE that the women have had to endure retaliatory tactics that have created an even more toxic environment at the news channel. The women—Roma Torre, Amanda Farinacci, Vivian Lee, Jeanine Ramirez, and Kristen Shaughnessy—say management and several of their colleagues have engaged in repeated attempts to isolate and further sideline them since they went public with their stories.

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The women are now working at home as a result of the coronavirus, but the situation within the newsroom deteriorated well before the pandemic. They say they have been given fewer opportunities to do high-profile reporting and featured in few promotional ads. They also have been subjected to degrading treatment by co-workers, according to the women and the former producers.

“The workplace is increasingly hostile since we’ve filed our lawsuit,” said Ramirez, a 49-year-old reporter at the station. "There are managers among the top ranks who refuse to acknowledge us.”

Torre, a 62-year-old anchor and two-time Emmy recipient, called the retaliation “horrible” and said it made life at NY1 “utterly unbearable.” The women’s lawyer, David Gottlieb, said he has added retaliation claims to their complaint and plans to add more.

The channel has faced a series of internal changes and layoffs since 2016, when Charter Communications acquired NY1's former parent company, Time Warner Cable. In a statement provided to VICE, Charter and NY1 spokesperson Stacey Mitch denied that the women have been discriminated against since the lawsuit.

"There are managers among the top ranks who refuse to acknowledge us.”

“We reject these claims of retaliation,” Mitch wrote. “We are committed to fostering a fair, inclusive and respectful work environment at NY1 and take allegations of discrimination seriously. All five plaintiffs remain actively employed and appear regularly on-air.”

“Meanwhile, these same reporters continue to speak freely about their allegations against us even though we firmly believe these allegations are without merit,” Mitch continued. “We are proud of our talented and diverse bench of anchors and reporters who can be seen on NY1 every day and of the ethics and integrity that inform everything we do.”

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“After we filed the lawsuit, the divide became more pronounced,” Torre said, adding that many people at the network gave the women “the cold shoulder,” “disparaging us behind our backs and in some cases refusing to even speak to us.” Her co-plaintiffs describe similar circumstances, as do the three former employees.

“They shun us in the newsroom and will only address us if necessary in front of the TV camera as part of a news report,” Ramirez said, referring to other on-air talent. “Their dismissal of us and this illegal behavior is self-serving as they protect the status quo and their high-profile positions."

The women said that some colleagues have expressed support in private since the lawsuit but have been less willing to do so publicly due to fears they would be “singled out as malcontents” and face potential “retaliation from management,” as Ramirez put it. One of the former producers, who, like the other producers in this article, requested anonymity because he still works in the industry, described similar circumstances.

"They shun us in the newsroom and will only address us if necessary in front of the TV camera as part of a news report."

“I've thought twice before liking or commenting on a post from one of the women because I know people have been approached and asked what's up with that?,” the former producer said. “You kind of learn if you want to avoid retaliation from management then you wouldn't talk to them.”

“We do not tolerate unprofessional or inappropriate conduct at NY1 and insist that all employees are treated with dignity and respect,” Mitch said in response. “Our NY1 employees are highly dedicated, professional and relied upon for vital news and information by millions of New Yorkers every day—none of which has been impacted by the lawsuit.”

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But partially as a result of the tumult, at least eight producers have left NY1 since last October, according to several former and current employees. One former producer felt the network’s choices affected her own ability to do her job well. “I was dealing with less-experienced journalists in breaking news situations,” the former producer said.

A separate former producer told VICE he left after personally witnessing “dozens of incidents” that seemed retaliatory in nature. The producer said he personally saw a fellow NY1 reporter comment that Shaughnessy, an anchor and reporter, was too old to be wearing a long-sleeved shirt with cut out shoulders—an incident also described by another former NY1 producer.

Shaughnessy said Charter publicly disparaged her reputation after the lawsuit was filed last year, when a company spokesperson issued a statement to CNN. Shaughnessy said the statement unfairly claimed that she was not a “regular anchor,” when in fact she has been the weekend anchor for more than two decades.

"People brought in by Charter, who never got to know us, have gone out of their way to speak badly about us or act rudely toward us,” Shaughnessy said. "They try to make us feel unwelcome.”

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Kristen Shaughnessy claims that Charter publicly disparaged her reputation after the lawsuit was filed last year, when a company spokesperson told CNN that she was not a “regular anchor."

She additionally claimed that Charter has not placed her in promotional ads since the lawsuit. In response, Charter sent along four promos for VICE to review, which unintentionally linked in the backend to more than 100 additional promos. Shaughnessy was not featured in any of them. Torre was in seven. Ramirez, Lee, an NY1 weekend anchor and reporter since 2008, and Farinacci, a NY1 reporter, were in one each. (VICE has since been locked out.)

“While many of the five women have been featured prominently and regularly, generally our promotion drives to our Monday through Friday programming line-up,” Mitch said.

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Torre found herself frustrated in July 2019, one month after the lawsuit was filed, when she was not allowed to cover the Women’s U.S. National Soccer team’s parade in Manhattan. Before then, she had covered numerous major sporting parades in the city.

Charter explained the decision by saying it had not wanted to change people’s schedules around. But the schedule of at least one person was changed so he could attend the event, according to one of the former producers: Pat Kiernan, a long time NY1 anchor, who Torre had alleged in the lawsuit had received consistently favorable treatment at the network. (The network declined to comment when asked about Kiernan.)

Beyond that, one former producer said, Torre was not allowed to tape her live show, “Live at Noon,” in the main studio where they film the signature morning show, “Mornings on 1,” and instead offered a smaller, less-equipped news studio with worse lighting. When her team suggested the main studio would be preferable, management responded by saying “yeah, that’s not going to happen,” the former NY1 producer said.

In response, Mitch said that NY1 “spent millions of dollars to redesign all three sets.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, is still in its early stages. Charter denied the allegations set forth in the suit and filed a motion in December 2019 to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming the allegations “fail to pass legal muster.” The women’s attorneys argued in an opposition to the original motion that Charter’s call motion was “inherently offensive and legally flawed.” The judge has not yet made a ruling, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proceedings have been put on hold.

“I couldn't tolerate it anymore,” a former NY1 producer said. “That's largely why I chose to leave.”

Lee was once a star on the network. But in January 2019, the network canceled her weekly show, “Spotlight,” according to the original lawsuit. After the last episode of “Spotlight” aired, Lee was assigned to shoot her own stories on the 9am general assignment shift. In recent months, Lee felt relegated to work usually given to newer reporters, while her less-seasoned colleagues were given weekday anchor slots at the news station, she said.

"I’m pulling 40 pounds of gear out the door into near-freezing temperatures to drive myself to a story that won’t air as much as others’, and see younger women with professionally styled hair and makeup walking by me, heading into a studio for a weekday dayside anchor slot I applied for and was denied,” Lee told VICE. “You can imagine how humiliating it is.”

Mitch said in response that the “local news model has changed dramatically as has the technology. In order to capture the high volume of stories required by a 24/7 news network some segments are produced on an iPhone, or with a handheld camera and sometimes, but not always, with a cameraman.”

To one of the former producers, however, it felt as if Charter seemed to want to “make the women feel as if they were really all alone.” “I couldn't tolerate it anymore,” the former producer added. “That's largely why I chose to leave.”

In late April, Lee received an Emmy for a piece of hers that aired in 2018 on her now-cancelled show. It was one of her last stories before the show was canceled. To her, it proved she had the capacity to produce award-winning work, should she be provided the resources she was once afforded.

“This goes beyond hurt feelings,” Lee said. “It speaks to management’s lack of respect and desire to marginalize me.”