By Meg James Los Angeles Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meg James takes a look at the harassment and misogyny claims that have piled up against CBS owned and operated local TV stations.
Jill Arrington was a star in TV sports. Then, four years ago, the former NFL sideline reporter traded national exposure for what she thought would be a more stable job at CBS' television stations in Los Angeles.
Arrington loved chronicling the Rams and other pro teams, and eventually took on additional duties as the weekend sports anchor for KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KCAL-TV Channel 9. But one thing about her job galled her: She was earning nearly $60,000 less a year than the male anchor she replaced.
When her contract came up for renewal, Arrington told the station's top managers that it was unacceptable to pay a woman so much less than a man.
"Oooh, isn't she tough," Arrington recalls the former general manager of CBS' L.A. stations, Steve Mauldin, saying during a March 2018 meeting. She said Mauldin turned to his lieutenant and said: "This one talks more than my wife."
The meeting ended with no assurance of a raise. But as Arrington started to leave, she said her boss told her: "Put on a tennis dress and meet me at the golf club. We'll put you on tape, and you can make some extra money."
Arrington had experienced come-ons in her years covering sports, but nothing like this. She confided in a colleague, who recalled that Arrington was "frantic and scared" after the exchange. In an interview last week, Mauldin denied making the remarks. "That didn't happen," he said. "That's the most absurd thing. I would not talk to women that way."
Six months after that meeting, a bombshell detonated at the highest level of the company: CBS' larger-than-life chief executive, Leslie Moonves, was ousted over claims he harassed and assaulted multiple women decades ago.
After a high-profile probe into Moonves' conduct and the company's workplace culture, independent law firms hired by CBS concluded that "harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS." But a Times investigation has uncovered claims of discrimination, retaliation and other forms of mistreatment in an overlooked but significant corner of the company: the chain of CBS-owned television stations.
More than two dozen current and former employees of KCBS and KCAL described a toxic environment where, they said, employees encountered age discrimination, misogyny, and sexual harassment — and retaliation if they complained.
Discrimination complaints have also surfaced at CBS-owned stations in Chicago, Dallas and Miami. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against CBS after investigating allegations that station managers in Dallas denied a full-time position to a 42-year-old traffic reporter and instead hired a 24-year-old former NFL cheerleader who didn't meet the job's requirements. CBS denied that it engaged in discrimination.
In late November, shortly before a scheduled trial, CBS reached a tentative agreement to resolve an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by award-winning Miami-based journalist Michele Gillen, who sued CBS last year. The company admitted no liability in the agreement. In her court filings, Gillen called CBS a "good ole boys club" that "protects men despite bad behavior."
Managing a nationwide television station group with thousands of employees is challenging, CBS Television Stations President Peter Dunn said in a statement. But, he added, "the vast majority enjoy where they work every day and take great pride in serving their local community. At the same time, I am very mindful that in a large company we have people who are unhappy at times. We respect all voices who express workplace concerns to us."
The job has become even more challenging due to profound shifts in media.
TV stations are no longer the profit centers they used to be. At some stations, including KCBS and KCAL, anchors have seen their salaries shaved to save money. Highly paid employees are booted, and station managers increasingly rely on part-time workers to deliver the news. But networks still haven't attracted younger audiences.
"Like all local stations, we are competing for viewers in an evolving media world," Dunn said. "This evolution has created natural tension with some employees and external constituents."
Transforming the TV station business, which remains rooted in old-school economics and attitudes, is a key challenge for the newly created ViacomCBS Inc. media company. In many ways, TV stations are stuck in a bygone era where women are judged by their appearance, and subjected to overt and subtle discrimination. Skin-tight dresses remain the norm. Older workers watch as coveted assignments go to younger reporters as stations try to appeal to younger viewers.
CBS is not the only broadcaster struggling with business shifts and complaints of ageism. L.A. station KTLA-TV Channel 5, formerly owned by Tribune Media, as well as the cable giant Charter Communications and the Sinclair Broadcast Group have all faced discrimination claims.
But CBS has a history of complaints, particularly in its treatment of women. In 2000, the company paid $8 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the EEOC, the government agency that polices workplace law compliance. The agency found that women at seven CBS TV stations, including KCBS, endured a hostile work environment that included sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining. About 200 female technicians at CBS stations — camera operators and engineers — were paid less then men and passed over for promotions, the EEOC found.
Today, the two CBS stations in Los Angeles produce 78 hours of newscasts each week, making it one of the city's busiest local TV news operations.
More than 120 people work at the two stations' newsroom, which is wedged into CBS Studio Center, a busy TV production hub in Studio City where TV shows such as "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Why Women Kill" are shot.
Moonves maintained a stately office on the lot, a short distance from the stations' broadcast center, which sits a few yards from the site of the lagoon in "Gilligan's Island."
Known as "CBS L.A.," the stations share management and a ground-floor newsroom. They are part of the chain of 28 stations owned by CBS.
In each market, a general manager handles day-to-day operations but oversight of the group rests in New York. For the last decade, Dunn and David Friend, two executives in New York, have managed the group.
"CBS-owned stations get very little leeway in anything — it's just the corporate mind-set," said one veteran producer who was not authorized to comment.
The L.A. stations were managed by Mauldin until last June, when he retired at age 70 after 40 years in the TV station business. He was friendly with Moonves, according to two people with the matter. Mauldin had previously been GM of CBS' stations in Dallas and Miami.
During the last seven years, multiple women at the Los Angeles stations complained that they were subject to harassment by their bosses or colleagues.
Early in 2018, prominent KCAL anchor Leyna Nguyen complained to KCBS management about inappropriate comments and unwanted touching by a male colleague, according to several people familiar with the matter. CBS spent months investigating the allegations but concluded there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
CBS reached a settlement with Nguyen in July 2018 — just days before the allegations about Moonves became big news. Nguyen, a 20-year employee who left KCBS following the incident, declined to comment on the matter.
CBS also struck a separation agreement with the person who was accused of the misconduct, and he also left. CBS did not admit liability in the matter.