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KMBC general manager is dismissed from discrimination suit

July 20, 2009

For the time being at least, KMBC-TV General Manager C. Wayne Godsey no longer has to worry about an age and gender discrimination suit filed by three on-air personalities.

A federal judge on Friday dismissed the suit against Godsey, although the case remains alive against the deep-pocket defendants, KMBC (Channel 9) and its parent, Hearst Argyle Stations Inc.

U.S. District Judge Greg Kays made his finding on procedural grounds, ruling that the plaintiffs’ failure to name Godsey in the complaint originally filed with the Missouri Human Rights Commission warranted dismissal of the complaint in court.

The plaintiffs — Kelly Eckerman, Peggy Breit and Maria Albisu-Twyman, known on air as Maria Antonia — sued in mid-November, alleging a “pattern and practice” of discrimination at Channel 9 and “a hostile environment, permeated with threats, intimidation and disrespect.”

Eckerman and Antonia contended they were demoted as anchors even as much older men kept their anchor positions and younger women were promoted.

Hearst-Argyle and Channel 9 have denied the allegations. Hearst-Argyle told The Kansas City Star after the suit was filed that the company “neither tolerates nor practices discrimination nor harassment of any kind.”

The suit originally was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court but later transferred to federal court at the defendants’ request. KMBC and Hearst-Argyle argued that the suit hangs on an analysis of a collective-bargaining agreement, which is governed by federal law.

In his ruling Friday, Kays acknowledged that Godsey had notice of the discrimination charges filed with the Missouri Human Rights Commission, was aware they referred to him and knew that 12 other individuals were mentioned, “including Sherrie Brown, Godsey’s alleged ‘hatchet person,’ whose role was arguably discussed in more detail than anyone else’s.”

But Kays also found that “nothing in the charges put (Godsey) on notice that he was personally charged with discrimination and potentially subject to individual liability.”

Dennis Egan, an attorney for Eckerman, Breit and Albisu-Twyman, called Kays’ ruling a mere “blip” in the case.

“It’s a minor procedural piece in the overall litigation skirmish,” he said.

KMBC and Hearst Argyle declined to comment. Their attorney, Mark Johnson, said they preferred to let the ruling “speak for itself.”