Bye-Bye Boys' Club

In the wake of an $8 million settlement, has WCCO gotten the message about discrimination?

It has been almost three years, but Kevyn Burger, a reporter for WCCO-TV, still has vivid memories of the scene. Like they do every month, Channel 4 management and staff had gathered in the commons of the CBS affiliate's downtown Minneapolis headquarters to honor the employee of the month. On the surface, it looked like business as usual: There was pie à la mode for the ranks. For the winner, a modest statuette and cash award to match. General manager Jan McDaniel came downstairs from her office suite to deliver a few words of congratulation. There was a golf clap. Everyone went back to the cubicles. But it seems there was more going on this May day in 1998 than could be captured on the "Hometown Team" cameras.

The recipient of the award was a 38-year-old technician named Rebecca Beckmann, who, along with former co-worker Beth Senn, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on December 19, 1996, charging WCCO and CBS with maintaining a "sexually hostile" and unfair environment for women. The suit was still pending when Beckmann was named employee of the month, and it's a good guess that McDaniel, who came to WCCO in 1996, wanted to show that a new era was under way at the station, which was characterized in court documents as "an old boy's club." As the general manager told City Pages four years ago ("A Way With the Ladies," June 11, 1997): "Zero tolerance is a CBS policy, a WCCO policy, and a Jan McDaniel policy."

"This all started before Jan arrived," Burger, who has not felt discriminated against by management at WCCO, says now. "She's a person who believes what she says. And to see these two women--one giving the award to the other, the way they handled themselves--it was really something."

Still healing: Rebecca Beckmann hopes things keep getting better for her female colleagues at WCCO
Raoul Benavides
Still healing: Rebecca Beckmann hopes things keep getting better for her female colleagues at WCCO

Today, McDaniel is still the general manager at WCCO, Beckmann has been promoted to the position of training supervisor, and, as of January 19, her lawsuit--which grew to include women from CBS stations all over the country--was settled out of court. (Senn resigned in September 1996, two months before the suit was filed, but remained a plaintiff.) CBS will pay out $8 million to some 200 female technicians working at WCCO and CBS-owned television stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and Green Bay.

The network has also agreed to the terms of an unusually detailed, 38-page consent decree, enforceable for the next four years, which guarantees that female employees at the six affiliates will be made aware of all internal job openings and that they can expect to have the same chance at those jobs as their male peers. Women can also count on equal compensation, access to better training, and a fair shot at overtime pay. If the terms of the agreement aren't met, CBS lawyers will find themselves back in federal Judge Donovan Frank's Minneapolis courtroom.

"This settlement imposes an unusually detailed level of injunctive relief," explains Beckmann's attorney, Lawrence Schaefer, who, along with partner Susan Stokes, will "administer" (read: enforce) the decree. "I think a trial would have been a difficult prospect for CBS. Claims of gender bias at six of their stations would be on the evening news in each of those markets. And that gave us a great deal of leverage."

The usually forthright McDaniel would not comment for this story and referred City Pages to the vice president of communications at CBS, Dana McClintock. Instead of answering specific questions about the scope of the settlement, McClintock referred to a network press release that denied any wrongdoing and, citing legal costs, proffered the hope that the whole thing would be put "behind us." "In general we're mindful of discrimination policies at all of our stations," says McClintock. "And we have become increasingly sensitive toward issues of discrimination and diversity over the last few years."

Given the scope of the plaintiffs' original complaint, that's a good thing. If the suit had gone to trial, Beckmann's attorneys were prepared to try to establish a decades-long pattern of sexual discrimination and harassment. Citing reams of statistical data and armed with pages of headline-grabbing anecdotes, their complaint included a series of allegations: That WCCO appeared to have a two-tiered compensation system for technicians, predicated solely on gender; men were given preference for higher-profile assignments such as the Super Bowl; open jobs for which there were qualified internal female applicants didn't get posted and then were given to men; and that Beckmann and other female technicians were denied promotions on several occasions, often because they had not received the appropriate technical training--even when they had requested said training over and over again.

When Schaefer and Stokes came to suspect that women working at other CBS-owned properties had similar problems, they began talking to other potential plaintiffs, with an eye toward pursuing a class-action lawsuit. Diana Rios, a technician at KCBS-TV in L.A., would eventually claim she was being denied overtime. From 1993 to 1998 at WBBM-TV in Chicago, male technicians had earned, on an average, $13,432 more per year than female technicians. On October 29, 1999, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), persuaded by testimony provided by Linda Karpell, a former photographer at WCBS-TV in New York, found that CBS discriminates against female technicians at local stations owned and operated by the company.

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