The Mean Spirit of Texas?

Two veteran TV news reporters accuse Channel 11 of age discrimination

"Who's number one?" he asks. "It's the station with a 50-plus-year-old anchor man [Dave Ward], a 40-plus-year-old anchorwoman [Shara Fryer], a 50-plus-year-old weatherman [Ed Brandon] and a 76-year-old feature reporter [Zindler]. And they are backed up by reporters who appear to range in age from about 28 to 62."

Citing office policy, Houston EEOC Director Joan Ehrlich would neither confirm nor deny that an age-discrimination investigation of KHOU and KPRC is under way. EEOC involvement in such cases in the media is very rare, comments Ehrlich, who recalls only one other case, where a male news anchor at KGO-TV in San Francisco claimed age discrimination and sued with EEOC assistance, winning a quarter-million-dollar judgment last year.

Ehrlich says she's privately counseled many on-air Houston television personalities who lost their jobs due to suspected sex or age discrimination. All of them eventually decided not to sue their former employers.

"These are very high-profile people who will face subtle or not so subtle retaliation if they file," explains Ehrlich. "People choose not to file, and go on and do something else, because otherwise their name is mud in the business."

Neither Uhl nor Getter holds much hope of rejoining The Spirit of Texas staff. Uhl is considering working as a media representative for a statewide candidate in next fall's campaign, while Getter is pursuing freelance television-production projects.

Uhl hopes his complaint against KHOU plays a part in staving off the trend to replace veteran television journalists, with accumulated experience and seniority, with younger reporters paid far below market rates.

Getter looks to the EEOC investigation and possible future lawsuit for a fair and reasonable settlement to meet the needs of his family, "those that I thought would be met by a long and successful career at KHOU. And at the same time, perhaps help them learn as a company that discrimination, no matter what kind it is, stinks."

Contact Tim Fleck by e-mail at tim_fleck@houstonpress.com.

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