In August 1997, a reporter and anchor for the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia cashed in on her role as Chief Political Correspondent on legislative news emanating from the state capitol in Harrisburg by accepting a position at WHTM-27, the ABC affiliate in the market owned by Nexstar Media Group.
She’s worked there for 20 years and eight months, anchoring the news at noon and at 5pm. Until last month, few outside of the Delaware Valley and Eastern Pennsylvania had ever heard of Flora Posteraro.
Today, she is attracting national attention — but not for her on-air efforts. Rather, Posteraro is getting notice for a sexual discrimination complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission for a reassignment by WHTM she contends is a demotion.
According to PennLive.com, Posteraro exited the Nexstar station on March 12 after she steadfastly declined to move to a weekend anchor/reporter position.
As the website for the Harrisburg Patriot-News reports, the reassignment was part of a new two-year contract presented to Posteraro on Jan. 31, with no change in pay.
By not moving to her new assignment, Nexstar says she resigned from WHTM. Posteraro contends she was dismissed from her job at the station, and that it is tied to her efforts in a summer 2017 complaint asserting WHTM had a hostile work environment.
By March 22, Posteraro struck back at Nexstar by going to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. She says her involuntary exit from WHTM is retaliation for an August 2017 complaint against WHTM GM Robert Bee.
Bee has been with WHTM for roughly 15 months, and came to the station after Nexstar closed on its acquisition of Media General.
PennLive published Posteraro’s allegations from the August 2017 complaint; she claims Bee made references to one female anchor as a “mean bitch;” telling a former WHTM news director that one of the station’s female reporters looked like a “fat pig” on the air; and describing women who did not follow his dress code as “street walkers.”
Once word of Posteraro’s shift away from weekday newscasts got out to viewers across the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon-Carlisle market, social media quickly overheated with calls of support for Posteraro. An “I Stand With Flora” Facebook page was started by fans who “stand up for equality, professionalism, and respect for women in your workplace.”
By Friday morning, Nexstar responded to Posteraro’s claims by issuing a public statement “to correct inaccuracies” made by her and her legal counsel, Charles Curley of Curley & Rothman.
While it is Nexstar’s policy not to comment publicly regarding personnel matters, the company said, “the ongoing public promotion of inaccurate and misleading statements included in Ms. Posteraro’s social media posts and the complaint filed by Mr. Curley on behalf of Ms. Posteraro with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission warrant a response to ensure that viewers, advertisers, legislators, regulators, the investment community and the public at-large receive accurate facts regarding what was a straightforward employment contract renewal process.”
Nexstar then noted that it “intends to pursue any and all legal remedies for damage caused by Ms. Posteraro and her advisors through their destructive public mischaracterizations.”
Additionally, Nexstar requested that Posteraro and her advisors “cease and desist from making any such future mischaracterizations.”
With that, Nexstar is ready for a legal battle that would allow “impartial parties” to see both sides of the story — and, Nexstar hopes, “affirm that the company acted properly at all times in its approach and actions.”
Prior to Nexstar’s acquisition of WHTM in early 2017, the station had three different owners over a five-year period. Before Media General obtained the station in July 2014, Sinclair Broadcast Group owned it. It had acquired WHTM as part of Sinclair’s acquisition of the Allbritton Communications, which had owned WHTM since 1996.
Now that Nexstar was in control, it asserts that it did what it always does with new properties.
“As a standard practice, it is incumbent upon a new operator to evaluate the programming performance metrics of an acquired station,” Nexstar said in its statement. “After taking ownership of WHTM, Nexstar engaged in a comprehensive and holistic analysis of the station, its programming, and the on-air talent with the goal of improving WHTM’s local content and viewer engagement.”
In addition to the standard evaluation of current locally-produced programming, Nexstar has made, or is in the process of making, “changes and additions to provide new programming and enhanced service to the local WHTM viewing communities.”
- Increased local programming with the launch of This Week in PA, a weekly political affairs show; and the expansion of weekday lifestyle show Good Day PA to one full hour
- The opening of a Pennsylvania Capitol Bureau and the reopening of news bureaus in Lancaster and York counties that were previously closed by WHTM’s former owners
- Committed capital investment of more than $3 million to upgrade the main station facility, which is on schedule to be completed this fall. This includes the introduction of a new high-definition news set and newsroom with state of the art equipment.
Nexstar then moved to explain the decision to reassign Posteraro.
“As part of the ongoing process to revive the strength of WHTM’s local programming and community service, local management, with corporate support, made a business decision to assign several on-air personalities to new broadcasts,” the company said. “These decisions were based on factors such as historical performance ratings, market research and general broadcast business knowledge. This is a proven approach which Nexstar has successfully deployed in its markets across the country.”
While the reassignments were generally received well, “it was clear that the decision was not embraced in the same manner by Ms. Posteraro,” Nexstar acknowledges.
“As such, Ms. Posteraro made the unilateral decision to resign from her position rather than accept a contract that included the same terms and conditions as her most recent employment agreement,” Nexstar continues, reasserting its belief that Posteraro’s exit was of her own volition.
What about claims of retaliation presented to the PHRC?
“These allegations are not only preposterous but totally contrary to the true reasons for her proposed broadcast reassignment,” Nexstar says.
Nexstar Harrisburg SVP/Regional Manager Theresa Underwood then commented at length about the situation regarding WHTM and Posteraro.
“At Nexstar, we take all employee complaints and concerns very seriously and have longstanding policies against discrimination and all forms of harassment. In a company with over 9,000 employees, we have comprehensive policies and procedures detailed in our employee guidebook and our company’s Code of Business Conduct that are structured to ensure all employees have open communications with Human Resources, so they can report any workplace issues or concerns and be ensured of a prompt and thorough investigation of any claims.
“In August 2017, we received an anonymous complaint of alleged gender discrimination by station management. After a thorough investigation was conducted, we concluded that the evidence did not support such allegations. Ms. Posteraro and many other members of the WHTM staff provided information as witnesses during that investigation. Some five months later, Ms. Posteraro was offered a new employment contract and salary consistent with the terms and conditions of her prior agreement. Ms. Posteraro’s role as news anchor was to continue; however, she declined the offer, thus ending her employment.”
Underwood also makes it “perfectly clear” that there have been no complaints made or filed regarding sexual harassment or sexual misconduct against anyone at WHTM during Nexstar’s ownership of the station.
“It is troubling that Ms. Posteraro has sought to attempt to align her complaint to the very serious issue of sexual harassment in the workplace through innuendo on social media and elsewhere,” Underwood said. “Furthermore, neither I nor any of my colleagues involved in the staffing assignments and employee-related decisions at WHTM would ever tolerate, defend or accept discrimination of any kind.”
Underwood concluded by again stating that Posteraro was not terminated and that she rejected the contract renewal offer.
But, the station and Nexstar, Underwood says, “are even more disappointed that she has chosen to mischaracterize this as a situation of discrimination, which is patently false. While Ms. Posteraro is attempting to try this case in the court of public opinion, we prefer to do so within the appropriate legal channels and will continue to respect due process.”
As such, additional details “will be disclosed in appropriate judicial hearings regarding this matter,” and Nexstar doesn’t intend to comment any further on the matter until there is a hearing.
Once that happens, look for perhaps more fiery accusations from a woman who feels she’s been shafted, and a company aggressively asserting that it has every right to evaluate its stations and make changes it believes are in its best interests.