Unseen on TV: Meet the Women Fighting for Diversity in Broadcast Media

Five women have filed a lawsuit against Spectrum News NY1 in New York City for gender- and age-based discrimination.

“Sadly, after dedicating over 100 years of award-winning journalism to NY1, our five clients have clearly been told that their careers are over,” attorney Douglas Wigdor, who is representing the five plaintiffs, wrote in a statement, “as NY1 seems to believe that younger faces, when it comes to women, are a ‘better look’ for the bottom line.”

The lawsuit against Charter Communications, Inc.—filed by Roma Torre (60), Amanda Farinacci (40), Vivian Lee (44), Jeanine Ramirez (49) and Kristen Shaughnessy (50)—accuses the company, which acquired NY1 in 2016, of hindering their careers by reducing airtime and promotions and being unreceptive to feedback or criticism from experienced female reporters.

Torre, the lead plaintiff in the case, alleges wage and resource inequities. According to the complaint filed, her salary “is less than half that of Mr. Kiernan, and is substantially less than other male anchors with similar skill and with similar, or even less, experience.” Torre also cites that she did not have access to the same studio upgrades or even the same makeup artist as her male counterparts—and that whereas her colleague, Patrick Kiernan, has been granted more airtime and a superior state-of-the-art studio as he aged into his role, and was even publicly celebrated upon his 20-year anniversary with NY1, she felt the network was pressuring women like her into surrendering their positions.

“We feel we are being railroaded out of the place,” Torre said in an interview with the New York Times. “Men age on TV with a sense of gravitas, and we as women have an expiration date.”

But the lawsuit is also not about bringing justice to NY1 alone. The five women have also launched a social media campaign urging diversity in broadcast journalism, and in an open letter on Medium they called on allies to join them in what they’re naming the Unseen on TV campaign.

“We filed this lawsuit because we have simply been left with no choice–we cannot and will not sit idly by while we are cast aside and our complaints of mistreatment are ignored,” the women wrote. “While we have poured our hearts and souls into our work, our respective careers have recently taken a sharp decline as we have been confronted with the stark reality of gender discrimination and ageism.”

Referencing an opinion piece published in March by the New York Times, in which Nashville journalist Steve Cavendish detailed instances of discrimination affecting middle-aged women in recent history, the NY1 plaintiffs also stressed that they were not the first to be affected by such prejudice—although they hope to be the last.

“We are fighting for any woman who has reached a certain age and has been intentionally marginalized, passed-over and deemed less relevant because of her age,” they declared. “We are fighting for any woman who found themselves signing a severance deal that felt more like hush money, rather than a genuine thank you for years of loyalty and hard work. We are fighting for our colleagues who see what is happening but do not dare speak up for fear of retribution. We are fighting for ourselves and we are fighting for all of them.”

About

Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a freshman at Tufts University. She was a Ms. editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.