Kansas City meteorologist Erin Little has filed a federal lawsuit against KCTV5’s parent company, claiming she was discriminated against because of her age and gender, and then retaliated against.
Little, a 44-year-old Prairie Village resident, filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, against Gray Media Group Inc., which does business as KCTV5. Gray Media Group is headquartered in Atlanta, and owns and operates television stations in 113 markets.
She is accusing the company of gender discrimination, retaliation, age discrimination and violating the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The station declined to comment Friday. A call to Gray Media Group was not immediately returned.
Little claims that in December, she filed a discrimination charge with the station, alleging management had discriminated against her on the basis of gender, age and disability, and then retaliated against her when she made internal complaints about the discrimination, according to the suit.
She amended her claims in February alleging additional retaliation took place after she filed her discrimination charge. In June, she received notice of “right to sue” from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Promoted to chief meteorologist
Little began working as a morning meteorologist for KCTV5 in March 2018, and was promoted to chief meteorologist in November 2021. Her employment contract runs through Jan. 16, 2025, according to the lawsuit.
Gray Media Group bought Meredith Corp., which owned KCTV5, in December 2021.
That same month, Gray Media Group began placing employees from other television markets it owned into management positions at KCTV5, beginning with Andrew Stewart as general manager, according to the suit. In February 2022, Kate Glover was appointed news director.
Little contends that shortly after arriving, Stewart and Glover began discriminating against and harassing her and other female employees. Both Stewart and Glover are no longer with the station.
In a case separate from Little’s, former KCTV anchor Kelli Taylor has said she was denied opportunities due to her race and sex during her final three years working for the station. Taylor, who is Black, has also filed a discrimination lawsuit.
Little contends that Glover hired primarily, if not exclusively, white male employees, according to the suit.
Shortly after Stewart’s arrival, he allegedly told Little that he did not agree with the terms of her employment contract and noted that it was “not a deal I would have done,” Little contends in her lawsuit.
Little, who claims the company’s market research data showed she consistently received favorable ratings from viewers, interpreted his comment to mean that she was “overpaid for a female,” according to the suit.
Little claims that Stewart and Glover began to gossip about her and criticize her and other female employees in conversations with other employees and outside vendors.
Although Little was chief meteorologist, she contends in her lawsuit that she was excluded from participating in the hiring process to fill other meteorologist positions. However, the lawsuit states other weather department employees were allowed to participate. Little asserts this was done to humiliate and undermine her, and to retaliate against her for prior complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Bullied and harassed
On Aug. 5, 2022, Little lodged a formal complaint with human resources against Stewart and Glover, alleging she “was being bullied and harassed” to leave her contract early. She contends this marked the beginning of a lengthy period of retaliation.
In her lawsuit, Little described a hostile work environment where she was demeaned, belittled and humiliated in front of coworkers. After she complained, her work schedule was changed, forcing her to work Sundays when she previously worked Monday through Friday.
She also described an incident on Nov. 17, 2022, where she was confronted by a stalker posing as a KCTV5 photographer at an event she was conducting for her non-profit.
She contends that when she reported the incident and provided a photograph of the individual, Glover failed to post the picture in the designated area of the building and failed to take actions to protect her safety and the safety of other station employees.
Little contends that the failure to take protective measures was “additional and calculated retaliation” against her and was a violation of the company’s written policies, according to the lawsuit.
The incident left Little terrified, stressed and concerned for her safety, according to the lawsuit. She was not able to complete her scheduled shift and left work early that day.
On Nov. 20, 2022, which was her next scheduled work day, she informed some coworkers that she believed she was being discriminated against. Afterwards, she left for her dinner break.
While on break, she allegedly received a call from the human resource manager who ordered her not to return to work because of an unspecified “incident” at work, according to court documents. About 10 minutes later, she was notified she was removed from the work roster for the next three days. She also lost access to her work emails and computer.
The next day, she received a call from a union representative who informed her that the human resource representative attempted to hold a previously scheduled meeting despite her absence and pretended not to know why she failed to attend, according to the suit.
Little contends she was placed on a three-day leave of absence so the company could investigate the previous evening’s events. At some point, her coworkers were told that her behavior had become “disruptive and erratic” and that she would not be returning to the workplace, according to the suit.
Little states in her lawsuit that her reputation with colleagues, as well as in the television industry, has been severely damaged.
Due to the stress and anxiety stemming from the alleged discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment, Little took a medical leave of absence. She contends she has been denied her right to return to her position in her employment contract.
Little contends that while she continues to hold the title of chief meteorologist, she has been stripped of all of her duties and responsibilities. As of Friday, she is still listed as chief meteorologist on the station’s website.
She is seeking an unspecified amount in actual and punitive damages, as well as reinstatement or money awarded for lost compensation.