Open Letter: Charter/NY1’s Attempts to Hide Behind Forced Arbitration

Unseen Women On TV
Aug 20 · 6 min read
Clockwise from top left: Roma Torre, Vivian Lee, Amanda Farinacci, Jeanine Ramirez and Kristen Shaughnessy. Not pictured: Thalia Perez and Michelle Greenstein.

TO: Mr. Thomas Rutledge
Chief Executive Officer
Charter Communications, Inc.

Dear Mr. Rutledge,

As you know, we are seven women who have recently filed claims of age, gender and/or pregnancy discrimination against Charter/NY1. It is simply undeniable that we have been marginalized and pushed aside (and fired, in the case of Ms. Perez and Ms. Greenstein) in favor of giving more air time to younger women and men. This form of discrimination in television media must come to an end. Nonetheless, since our lawsuits were filed several months ago, absolutely nothing has been done to address this discrimination, and additional internal complaints in recent weeks by those of us still working at NY1 continue to be ignored.

We are not writing to you today to ask that you confirm or deny these allegations; we will leave that question to a jury of our peers. Rather, we write to protest Charter’s stated intention to force Vivian Lee, Thalia Perez and Michelle Greenstein’s claims away from the courtroom and into a private, secretive arbitration forum.

NY1’s own website states that “we empower New Yorkers with the information they need to make decisions.”¹ It is completely hypocritical to ask your viewers to believe that Charter is committed to empowering the public with information, when you conceal these claims behind closed doors. Ms. Lee, Ms. Perez and Ms. Greenstein should be entitled to have their claims heard in court — with the fair and impartial processes which govern such proceedings — with the rest of us. As the CEO of one of the largest cable companies in the United States, this is an opportunity for you to step forward and show that you and Charter are entering a new era where you will support women’s rights in the workplace. Or, you can show the opposite.

Simply put, forced arbitration agreements attempt to unfairly prohibit employees from accessing the court system. Instead of adjudicating claims of discrimination in court, arbitration agreements attempt to thrust such claims out of the public view and into a private setting where a claimant’s rights are severely limited and diminished. The unfairness of arbitration has been widely publicized. There is growing evidence that mandatory arbitration produces outcomes different from those of litigation, to the disadvantage of employees, and that arbitration suffers from due process problems that give the advantage to the employers who impose mandatory arbitration on their workers.² Arbitrators who are paid by the employer are inherently biased and far less likely to side with the employee than an impartial jury. Arbitration also lacks numerous procedural safeguards that are automatic in court. The New York Times published an article titled “In Arbitration, a Privatization of the Judicial System” which described that arbitration’s “rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients.”³ As one California appeals court judge said in an interview with the New York Times,

[p]rivate judging is an oxymoron . . . This is a business and arbitrators have an economic reason to decide in favor of the repeat players.

The article also reported that,

in interviews with The Times, more than three dozen arbitrators described how they felt beholden to companies. Beneath every decision, the arbitrators said, was the threat of losing business . . . Victoria Pynchon, an arbitrator in Los Angeles, said plaintiffs had an inherent disadvantage. “Why would an arbitrator cater to a person they will never see again?”

To that end, we are asking you to stand up as a corporate leader and join the fight for women’s rights. Many other corporations have taken a stand against forced arbitration including Uber, Google, Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, Sidley Austin, Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. We hope you stand with them for this advancement in employee rights, not against them.

To add insult to injury, the arbitration agreement you claim Ms. Lee, Ms. Perez and Ms. Greenstein are bound by contains a provision that if anyone does not immediately agree to arbitration or even attempts to fight the legitimacy of the arbitration proceeding, they will be required to pay NY1’s attorneys’ costs, fees and expenses in compelling arbitration. This is clearly intended as a further scare-tactic to deter people from pursuing claims at all. What does Charter/NY1 have to hide that it goes to this length to dissuade and frighten people from enforcing their rights under the law?

Moreover, arbitration is particularly antithetical to your business — a media organization responsible for reporting the news. Charter has on numerous occasions sought the release of concealed records in the name of promoting the public good. As a news organization, Charter should hold itself to these same standards and be committed to openness, promotion of public discourse and the free exchange of information. Arbitration does the opposite — it stifles the spread of information and keeps misdeeds outside the public view. The only reason for you to compel us into arbitration would illustrate your concern that clear evidence of discrimination will become public and your belief that Charter will be unable to convince a jury that our claims are incorrect.

In addition, our cases are a matter of public concern — our cases have generated substantial interest across the country. That is likely due to the timeliness and public importance of the issues we are raising. Sadly, it is hardly a novel occurrence that the media fails to showcase professional older women in on-air positions. This form of discrimination is so pervasive that The Association of National Advertisers has spearheaded the #SeeHer initiative.⁴ This effort seeks to help ensure that the media and advertising industries provide an accurate depiction of women, rather than an environment in which every woman portrayed on screen is young. The significance of these issues for all women provides only more reason why it is completely improper and irresponsible for you to force any of these claims behind closed doors.

Since filing our lawsuit, we have received an outpouring of encouragement including from public figures such as Mayor Bill De Blasio,⁵ New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams,⁶ Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez,⁷ Katie Couric, Megyn Kelly, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Maria Shriver and the New York City Council Women’s Caucus.⁸ In response to our lawsuits, Charter claimed that “NY1 is a respectful and fair workplace and we’re committed to providing a work environment in which all our employees are valued and empowered.”⁹ These are your company’s words.

If those words were actually meant and have real meaning, they cannot be squared with forced arbitration. Forced arbitration only perpetuates gender discrimination in the workplace by eliminating a woman’s fundamental right to seek justice in court when her employer engages in unlawful behavior. If NY1 is truly committed to providing a workplace that is “respectful and fair” where employees are “valued and empowered” it would not require any woman to waive her right to pursue claims in open court.

For these reasons, we ask that you voluntarily release Ms. Lee, Ms. Perez and Ms. Greenstein from their arbitration agreements. Ending forced arbitration for victims of discrimination is the right thing to do and would send a message that Charter, under your leadership, is truly committed to becoming a champion of positive, lasting change for women around the country.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Roma Torre
Anchor
NY1 since 1992
61 years old

Kristen Shaughnessy
Anchor/Reporter
NY1 since 1995
51 years old

Jeanine Ramirez
Brooklyn Reporter/Anchor
NY1 since 1996
49 years old

Vivian Lee
Anchor/Reporter
NY1 since 2008
44 years old

Amanda Farinacci
Staten Island Reporter
NY1 since 2000
40 years old

Thalia Perez
Former Anchor/Reporter
Fired in 2017, while pregnant
45 years old

Michelle Greenstein
Former Traffic Reporter
Fired in 2017, after maternity leave
42 years old

For more information, contact Wigdor LLP:

Douglas H. Wigdor, Founding Partner
(212) 257–6800
dwigdor@wigdorlaw.com

David E. Gottlieb, Partner
(212) 257–6800
dgottlieb@wigdorlaw.com

Julia L. Elmaleh-Sachs, Associate
(212) 257–6800
jelmaleh-sachs@wigdorlaw.com


Unseen Women On TV

Written by

Female anchors fighting ageism in the newsroom. Led by Roma Torre, Kristen Shaughnessy, Jeanine Ramirez, Vivian Lee & Amanda Farinacci. #BroadcastWomen

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