Former WKYT-27 reporter Jerry Sander filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the CBS affiliate, alleging he was improperly fired because of his age.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District court in Lexington, the 62-year-old's attorneys claimed the station's news director "singled Mr. Sander out in front of the news team by frequently berating him and criticizing his story ideas."
It was part of a pattern, the suit alleges, that also included management withholding pay raises and stripping him of his senior news reporter duties such as critiquing younger reporters' work.
Sander claimed in the suit that the station "is systematically eliminating older employees on account of their ages." No similar lawsuits have been filed against the station.
WKYT General Manager Wayne Martin said in a statement released Wednesday that Sander resigned his position with WKYT in February. Martin said Sander "subsequently filed for unemployment benefits, which the Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission denied."
"We are aware a lawsuit has been filed by Mr. Sander but we have not been served with the complaint. Therefore, we have no further comment," he said.
Sander's last day working at the station was Feb. 21 when he was assigned, the suit alleges, to produce Web site versions of all of WKYT's stories, as well as Sno-Go school and business closings.
The suit says Sander, a 26-year veteran of the station, told News Director Robert Thomas that he was not trained in the Sno-Go assignment. In response, "Thomas berated Mr. Sander."
Sander said he was feeling ill and the suit claims Thomas "ordered him to go home for the day and not return until told to do so."
Sander met with Thomas and Martin four days later and was given the option to resign with no benefits, resign with a severance, be fired but receive unemployment benefits, or return to work, the suit said.
Sander told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday that he asked to return to work but had a phone conversation the next day with Martin who said that was no longer an option and "his last words to me were 'This is strictly a business decision.'"
Sander said Wednesday that unemployment benefits were blocked initially by the station but he won a hearing. The station, though, appealed, he said and won that "based on the argument that I quit."
Sander said he told one person at the station, Martin's secretary, that he quit but later called to say he was emotional and didn't mean it.
"That night on the phone with Wayne Martin I asked whether I had lost my job, and he replied 'No, nothing like that,'" Sander said.
"To me, Robert Thomas and (executive producer) Michele Hill had wanted me out for quite some time," Sander said, noting that Thomas had asked him if he planned to continue working until his contract expired at the end of 2012.
"He would also make snide remarks about the amount of money I made," Sander said, adding that he was paid in the mid to upper $80,000 range.