PORTLAND — Doug Rafferty, a former longtime news anchor for WGME-TV who says he was removed from his job after an on-air stroke and later received a steep pay cut, is suing the television station and its Maryland parent company, claiming disability and age discrimination.
Rafferty’s attorneys, David Webbert and Matthew Keegan, filed the suit on his behalf in Cumberland County Superior Court on Feb. 15, but the station has yet to be served with official notice and has not responded to the suit.
Rafferty, now 61, worked as an on-air news anchor for Channel 13 for 16 years before suffering the stroke Jan. 19, 2006, during a live broadcast.
“Mr. Rafferty had fully recovered from his 2006 stroke as of 2007 and since 2007 he has had no recurrence of any symptoms from the 2006 stroke. In other words, he has been fully capable of serving as a TV anchor from 2007 to the present,” said Webbert, his attorney.
As an on-air news anchor, Rafferty made a base salary of $93,000 with an additional $25,000 to $30,000 per year in other wages. After his stroke, he retained his base annual pay of $93,000 but lost the on-air extras, Webbert said.
“In 2007, General Manager Terry Cole and News Director Robert Atkinson told Mr. Rafferty that the station was removing him from ‘the chair.’ In other words, the station was removing Mr. Rafferty from his anchor position,” according to the seven-page complaint in the lawsuit. “When Mr. Rafferty was replaced as anchor, he was 55 years old. His replacement was in his early 40s.”
Rafferty continued to do some on-air broadcasts and, over time, assumed more computer infrastructure and information technology roles.
In February 2011, WGME management informed Rafferty that his salary would be cut from $93,000 to $45,000. Management told Rafferty that his new role was not worth as much as his broadcast work, according to the lawsuit.
“I think they saw him as damaged goods, and they eased him out over the passage of time,” Webbert said. “One of the issues for him was when he got his pay decreased, he had a daughter in college and a daughter on the way to college. He was willing to put up with a certain amount. … They basically told him ‘goodbye.’”
The suit against WGME and its parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., demands a jury trial and seeks a monetary award for lost wages and benefits and other damages.
“I can’t comment on it,” WGME General Manager Tom Humpage said when contacted about the suit Thursday.
A spokeswoman for Sinclair Broadcast Group also declined to comment on the suit.
Through his attorneys, Rafferty also declined to speak.
In January 2007, Rafferty told the Portland Press Herald that leaving his position as news anchor had nothing to do with the stroke he suffered and that he felt “fine.”
He filed his first discrimination charges with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against WGME in December 2011 after his salary was cut to $45,000. The MHRC dismissed his complaint in April 2012, and the EEOC dismissed his complaint in January 2013, according to the suit.
Webbert said those commissions’ decisions do not mean that Rafferty’s discrimination case has any less claim in civil court.
“None of the commissioners are lawyers. They’re not as good at predicting with a jury would decide,” he said.
WGME and Sinclair Broadcast must be given official notice of the suit within 90 days after its filing date. After being given notice, the companies have 20 days to respond.
The EEOC has won one lawsuit against WGME’s parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, for a discrimination case against one of its television stations, KOKH-TV, in Oklahoma City. The federal agency accused KOKH-TV of paying a black female reporter less than her co-workers, and a federal court ordered KOKH-TV to pay the reporter $45,000 and show her additional consideration.
Neither WGME nor its parent company have any other record of being sued in civil courts in Maine, according to the clerk’s office in the Cumberland County Courthouse. There are also no records of cases against WGME or Sinclair in federal courts in Maine, according to records from U.S. District Court in Portland and in Bangor.
Rafferty left WGME last year. He works as a spokesman for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.