Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Norma Rashid sues Channel 5




By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WLWT news anchor Norma Rashid sued Channel 5 Monday, claiming she was terminated last month for reasons of age, sex and disability discrimination.

        Although Channel 5 officials have said she was on an “extended vacation,” Ms. Rashid said she was fired on March 14.

        “They told me to go home, and in every conversation that I've had with them since then, they told me not to come back,” said Ms. Rashid, 44, the station's late news co-anchor for 17 years, and the city's senior primary TV anchor. She also was Channel 5 news managing editor.

        According to a suit filed Monday in Hamilton County Common Pleas court, General Manager A. Rabun Matthews refused to tell her why her contract — which pays her $275,600 this year, plus a $5,000 clothing allowance — would not be renewed when it expired Dec. 31.

        “I said, "I've worked here (almost) 18 years, so don't you owe me an explanation?,' and he said, "We don't owe you anything,'” Ms. Rashid said Monday.

        “They gave me absolutely no reason, and I have asked repeatedly for one in writing,” said Ms. Rashid, who was not represented by an agent or attorney at the time.

        After the suit was filed, Mr. Matthews fired back, denying that he had terminated the Fort Thomas resident: “Norma has not been fired. We have made it clear to Norma, as recently as last week, that we want her to return to work. We had hoped that would already have happened,” Mr. Matthews said.

        “We fully expect Norma back to work to fulfill the terms of her contract,” he said.

        That prompted attorney Stanley Chesley to release a March 29 letter from Mr. Matthews telling Ms. Rashid her employment was terminated April 19. Mr. Matthews said that letter was replaced by a subsequent one “correcting the terminology.”

        The March 29 letter asked her to sign an enclosed agreement canceling her contract and waiving her legal rights, the suit said. It also instructed her to tell the public that she was voluntarily leaving the station by saying: “I think it is time for me to move on, and explore other opportunities and interests.”

        When she received that letter, Ms. Rashid called Mr. Chesley.

        “They wanted me to say that I was leaving of my own free will, but I couldn't do that,” she said. “I'm not in the business of not telling the truth. You know me, I'm always forthcoming, sometimes to my own detriment.”

        The suit also claimed:

        Disability discrimination: Ms. Rashid, a single mother of three children (ages 13, 11, and 6), said station owners “refused to consider any accommodation” after she was diagnosed in 1998 with an incurable life-threatening heart illness, viral cardiomyopathy, which may eventually require a heart transplant.

        She had asked Rick Rogala, the previous general manager, for “schedule adjustments,” such as permission to take a nap before the late news and/or work less than five nights a week.

        “That was not granted. I guess they didn't consider that an option,” she said.

        As for her health now, she said: “I'm fine. I was given a different group of medication a year ago, and it's working very well.”

        Age discrimination: The suit claimed Ms. Rashid “was replaced by a younger individual.” She said that was a reference to Lisa Cooney, who filled in last week with co-anchor Dave Wagner.

        Sex discrimination: Ms. Rashid stated in the suit that she was treated “differently from similarly situated male employees” at Channel 5. When asked to elaborate, Ms. Rashid and her attorney declined comment.

        “Wow, I guess he's covering all his bases,” said Ms. Rashid, who had not read the suit. “There's something Stan knows that I don't know very well — and that's the law.”

        Defamation: Channel 5 managers have told other people, including the media, that Ms. Rashid “was off work of her own volition” knowing the statements were false.

        The suit also cited breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. It asked for compensatory and punitive damages.

        Ms. Rashid last appeared on Channel 5 March 13, two days before a scheduled vacation. Her 11 p.m. newscast has been third in the ratings since 1992, when Jerry Springer was commuting between his national talk show in Chicago and Channel 5's newscasts.

        She was hired in 1983 to co-anchor with Rick Taylor. She replaced Clyde Gray as Channel 5's late co-anchor.

        Asked about her plans, Ms. Rashid said: “I don't know. That's the one question I can't answer.”

       

       



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