Sports reporter Colleen Dominguez is 54 years old and has enjoyed a successful career in sports journalism including a lengthy stint at ESPN. Dominguez recently jumped to Fox Sports 1 and believes her age and her gender are the only plausible reasons that FS1 has cut her broadcasting assignments and diminished her career. These are her allegations in a lawsuit filed recently in a California federal court. The complaint tells the story of a veteran, experienced reporter who’s paid her dues but is being pushed aside by the men and the new pretty girl on the block. Can a media company make decisions based on the age and gender of its on-air talent?
This is not the first time this has come up in the TV and entertainment industry. In 1993 a Minnesota jury awarded 53-year-old sportscaster Tom Ryther $1.2 million in an age discrimination case. Ryther, a longtime fixture on TV news, was not renewed after his network commissioned a poll that showed he was not having a “positive” effect on viewership. According to Ryther, at the time of his termination, the station manager asked him how it felt to be a failure at age 53. No doubt that played well with the jury. Ten years earlier, a Missouri court ruled against a female newscaster on her sex discrimination claim. She was replaced on air after a local survey showed she scored very low in categories dealing with “good looks” and the image of a “professional anchor woman.” The court rejected her arguments that the station’s appearance standards were discriminatory and were applied more leniently to men.
The EEOC’s regulations state that the bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) defense is not available in a sex discrimination case where the adverse action is based on “stereotyped characterizations of the sexes.” Likewise, the BFOQ defense is not available in an age discrimination case unless defendant can show that the disqualifying characteristic cannot be separated from age. Dominguez’s complaint alleges statements by FS1 personnel that link her reduced workload to perceptions about her age and her gender. Anyone who consumes sports television cannot help but notice that it is male-dominated, and the few women one sees on screen skew young. Is Dominguez a victim of industry perception? It will be interesting to see how FS1 frames its defense.