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Miami Anchor Files Sexual Orientation Bias Charge

August 6th, 2009 | Michael Triplett

One of the few openly gay TV anchors in the country–Charles Perez of WPLG in Miami–has filed a charge with the local human rights authority alleging sexual orientation and gender discrimination by station managers that resulted in his demotion from weeknight anchor. Perez says his openly gay news director made comments about his performance and on-air presence that reflected anti-gay animus and that he was treated differently from heterosexual news employees.

According to the intake questionairre filed with the Miami-Dade Equal Opportunity Board–Florida does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and so the claim would gay bias claim would be brought under local law–Perez says that beginning in March 2009 he was subjected to bias at the hands of news director Bill Pohovey. The turning point appears to be an e-mail that was distributed by Perez’s ex-partner implying Perez was seeking the assistance of a therapist for issues relating to “gender identity issues.”

The allegations–and they are allegations at this point–suggest that Perez had been criticized for being “too anchor-like” and that he needed to lighten up with his female co-anchor, but then was told he should not interact with his co-anchor like “girlfriends.” He also alleges the news director made comments to him about marriage and family that he would never make to a heterosexual employee.

The complaint paints a picture of the news director showing photographs of “conquests” and talking explicitly about sex at one moment and then suggesting Perez was “too soft” the next.

In a statement from the station, Pohevey said “[a]s a gay man myself, I can safely say the Station does not discriminate against gay people. Charles’ claim that the Station discriminates against gay people is untrue and offensive. WPLG has a reputation of being a leader in this community with a very diverse staff. The Station does not discriminate. The Station will bring the facts out in the appropriate legal forum and fully expects to be completely vindicated.”

At this stage of the game, these are classic “he said, she he said” allegations. Perez provides a lot of evidence of conversations between him and the station and makes a number of inferences about the meaning of those conversations. There isn’t a lot of case law to parse out what is considered evidence of sexual orientation discrimination, although he clearly is making the argument that inferences of him being “soft” and “girlfriends” has homophobic overtones.

It’s also not true that a member of the same protected class–another openly gay man, in this case–cannot also discriminate. From same-sex sexual harassment cases to race discrimination cases, courts have never been persuaded that someone of the same protected class can’t also be a harasser or a discriminatory actor.

michael R. Triplett: Michael Triplett is the president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of NLGJA and a member of the NLGJA Rapid Response Task Force. He is the assistant chief of correspondents for BNA.

This article was originally posted at RE:ACT on August 4, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission fromt he author.

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