Former television news reporter Jerry Sander has lost an age-discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Lexington CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27).
In a ruling late Friday, federal Judge Karl Forester sided with WKYT's parent company on all of Sander's claims, saying the reporter voluntarily quit after a meeting in February 2008 in which he refused to do work for the station's Web site and its "SnoGo" school and business closings.
"Sander's voluntary resignation was clear," Forester wrote. "The fact that Sander and his wife tried to unring that bell and ask for his job back later in the day cannot change the fact that Sander voluntarily quit and walked out of WKYT that morning."
At issue was a morning meeting in which Sander, now 64, was assigned to produce stories for WKYT's Web site and was told he "could help with SnoGo," according to the ruling. Although trained that morning and before to work on Web stories, Sander said he could not do the SnoGo closings and would not know how to start.
"I don't know how to do it, I can't do it and I won't do it," Sander said in a meeting of 15 staffers, according to depositions.
After an exchange with news director Robert Thomas, Sander said he was feeling ill and would go home. Before leaving, Sander told two station employees that he was "going to quit," according to the ruling.
He also told Thomas that Thomas now had Sander's salary to use. Sander — who was the station's highest-paid reporter, earning in the mid- to upper $80,000 range — had claimed that the station was under budget constraints.
"Sander's voluntary resignation was clear," Forester wrote.
Although Sander attempted to excuse his conduct by saying he was suffering extreme emotional distress, "an employee is not entitled to walk out on a job merely because he cannot control his temper," the judge wrote.
Sander met with Thomas and WKYT general manager Wayne Martin four days later and was told after that meeting that the station had decided to accept his resignation and would offer him a severance with a signed statement of release. In the ruling, Forester noted that Martin's decision not to take Sander back was based on the idea that his refusal to do a "routine assignment" would "very much undermine the management of the newsroom and set a precedent."
Sander, who had worked for the station since 1981, declined the severance offer and sued the station later that fall.
"I'm very disappointed" in the ruling, Sander said Tuesday. He deferred other questions, including whether he plans to appeal, to his attorney, who did not immediately return a message.
WKYT's Martin sent a memo to staffers informing them of Forester's ruling but did not elaborate further and declined to comment.
In the suit, Sander had claimed that the station discriminated against him because of his age and claimed that other veteran news staffers also were treated that way. But he failed to offer any compelling evidence, Forester wrote in his ruling. The judge said the station cared not about Sander's age but his enthusiasm on the air.
"The defendant is a television station, and it is entitled to have enthusiastic anchors — such as Betty White, for example," Forester wrote.