Last week, a California judge tentatively rejected Fox's bid to dismiss a longtime Los Angeles local reporter's age discrimination suit, saying she thought the reporter had sufficiently alleged he was discriminated against and that the discrimination forced him to quit his job.
Last September, Fox KTTV 11 reporter Chris Blatchford, 68, filed suit against his employer claiming they got rid of employees older than 40 with greater frequency than younger employees, hired very few older employees and gave preference to younger employees. Blatchford asserted that he was constructively terminated in February after his doctor informed him that continuing to work in a hostile environment would be detrimental to his health. All told, Blatchford asserted one claim of age harassment, and six claims of labor law violations based on the contention that he was so mistreated that he had no choice but to quit his job.
Blatchford also claims Fox retaliated against him after he backed union steward Tony Valdez in what he says was a campaign to decertify the union. “Blatchford was among the reporters who had his role minimalized after standing up for Valdez and the union,” the suit said. “In contrast, the freelancers, who were primarily younger employees, who supported decertifying the union were rewarded with staff positions.”
Blatchford brings claims of discrimination on the basis of age and retaliation in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, among other causes of action. The suit names as defendants local Fox affiliate Fox U.S. Productions 11 Inc., parent company 21st Century Fox Inc. and other related entities, along with a number of individual defendants who served as Blatchford's supervisors.
Los Angeles Superior Court
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie M. Bowick said that she was inclined to reject the attempt by Fox US Productions 11 Inc. — a.k.a. Los Angeles station Fox KTTV 11 — and its corporate parents to dismiss plaintiff Christopher Blatchford's claim of age harassment and labor law violations. The judge did say, however, that she would likely dismiss Blatchford's claim for breach of contract and retaliation.
Fox's attorney urged Judge Bowick to reconsider her tentative ruling, arguing Blatchford can't claim he was forced out of his job — known as a constructive termination — because he alleges he took family leave to care for his wife during illness and then resigned before returning to work, clearly showing his workplace was not intolerable at the time he resigned. “If conditions were so intolerable, why didn't he quit before the leave, or quit in the middle of the leave? Why'd he wait six months and then decide, with no interaction with anyone at Fox, that he had to quit?” he said.
Fox's attorney also argued that Blatchford's age discrimination claim fails because he only alleges one purportedly discriminatory comment, which is when his former boss, KTTV's news department managing editor Ramona Schindelheim, told him to “stop living in the past” after she took over his department. “There's nothing ageist about telling somebody, when there's been a change in management, to tell someone to stop living in the past,” Fox's attorney stated.
Earlier in the hearing, the judge had said she was inclined to sustain a separate demurrer brought by Schindelheim. Judge Bowick said it appeared Blatchford had failed to allege facts to support his claims of age harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Schindelhiem individually, as Schindelheim's alleged statement wouldn't be enough to create a hostile work environment or establish “a concerted pattern of harassment.”
Kingsley & Kingsley – Experienced California Employment Lawyers
The California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley will continue to monitor this case and report on the impact of Judge Bowick's final ruling. In the meantime, should you have questions about discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, call and speak to an experienced California lawyer at (818) 990-8300 or click here to contact us via email.