Former anchor Sonya Heitshusen claims that WHO-TV and its parent company, Nexstar Media Group, regularly removed older female reporters who were seen as no longer “camera-worthy.”
A prominent Iowa reporter and news anchor has filed a lawsuit against her former employer, claiming the station made a practice out of removing older, female staffers from their air because of their appearance.
According to The Associated Press, Sonya Heitshusen filed her age and gender discrimination against WHO-TV’s parent company, Nexstar Media Group Inc., on Tuesday.
In it, the 54-year-old Heitshusen claims she was “thrown out to pasture” by Nexstar, because management no longer believed that she was camera-worthy.
However, Heitshusen insists that Nexstar did not treat older men the same way—and, in many ways, seemed to reward them for their years of experience.
“Where all the women who are in TV broadcasting over 50? You don’t see women on TV with gray hair and wrinkles,” Heitshusen told The Associated Press. “It has to change. Women are relevant after the age of 50. They have a lot of great ideas. They are hard workers and can make a difference.”
Heitshusen further told The Associated Press that she wants her lawsuit to effect a “cultural shift” in an industry where discrimination runs rampant.
Nexstar, though, has defended itself, saying they simply terminated Heitshusen’s post as part of a reduction in workforce numbers.
However, The A.P. notes that Nexstar has faced other lawsuits from female reporters who say they, too, were taken off the air once they reached a certain age.
Heitshusen, for instance, says she was completely “blindsided” when WHO-TV news director Rod Peterson told her that Nexstar had exercised a clause in her employment contract to remove her without cause in line with a “business decision.”
While Nexstar said they might be able to help Heitshusen find a “lower-paying” digital position, they told the anchor that she would not appear on-air.
“I thought, ‘I’m good enough to work here but I’m not good enough to be on camera?’” said Heitshusen, who was—at the time of her firing—the oldest female anchor in the station’s history. “The only thing that signaled to me was that it’s my appearance.”
The lawsuit names Nexstar, news director Rod Peterson, and general manager Bobby Totsch as defendants.
Heitshusen’s lawsuit asks the court to order Nexstar to pay her unspecified damages.
Alongside financial penalties, the complaint requests that Nexstar be compelled to take other remedial actions, including mandatory gender and age discrimination training for station managers and a holistic analysis of how female employees have been treated.