Fox-owned WNYW-TV in New York Thursday axed a staffer who had filed a $ 1 million federal discrimination suit against the station (Daily Variety, July 28 ).
A spokeswoman for the Fox O&O would only confirm that Christine von Obenauer, a three-year employee of WNYW who was previously demoted from her position as the general manager’s administrative assistant, is no longer with the station. The press rep declined further comment because the case is involved in litigation.
But attorney Jeffrey Bernbach, who is representing Obenauer, said he plans to file an amended complaint today in New York’s U.S. District Court adding “retaliatory discharge” to the suit.
Obenauer alleged in her initial filing that Jean Fuentes, VP of personnel for the Fox Television Stations and the official charged with handling employee grievances, demoted her to a position in the traffic department after Obenauer complained that a senior exec made lewd comments about her breasts.
Fuentes allegedly demanded that Obenauer, who reprimanded the exec, apologize to him. But the plaintiff refused and was demoted two days later, according to the suit.
Obenauer, who had undergone treatment for breast cancer, claimed the new job in a room of computers exposed her to dangerous levels of radiation. But Bernbach said she couldn’t leave because she needed to maintain medical coverage.
Bernbach said WNYW fired his client for “insubordination” a day after the Daily Variety report surfaced about the suit.
He said Obenauer was called into a meeting with her direct boss Thursday morning. She asked if she could first contact her attorney, fearing the powwow stemmed from the suit and press coverage.
The boss refused her request and, when she walked into the meeting 15 minutes later after reaching Bernbach, she was immediately fired for refusing a direct order, the attorney said.
Bernbach gave Fox until 5 p.m. Thursday to reinstate Obenauer, but the company asked for a one-day extension before notifying him that she would not be rehired.
Bernbach, a former lawyer for the Hearst Corp., said he has never seen such “clumsy and heavy-handed” handling of a case in his 25 years as an attorney.