HUNTINGTON – A former WCHS-TV and WVAH-TV meteorologist is suing the stations and their parent company, claiming he was fired because of his age.
Jim Barach filed his complaint Nov. 1 in Cabell Circuit Court against the stations and Sinclair Media III Inc, which is based in Maryland.
“When I was let go, it was done very secretively,” Barach told The West Virginia Record. “The station has been trying to keep it under wraps, but I’ve been inundated by people wanting to know what happened. This is good to get this word out.”
In his complaint, Barach says he began working for the defendant companies on July 11, 2005, as the stations’ chief meteorologist. For the first 11 years of his employment, Barach says he received highly positive performance reviews and that his contracts were renewed on a two- and three-year basis. He was given the West Virginia Broadcasters Association’s award for weathercast of the year six times, and he was named the Associated Press’s state Broadcaster of the Year in 2010.
But in 2017, Barach says he received his first negative performance review and had his contract renewed for one year instead of the typical two. At the time, Barach was 60 years old.
“In January 2018, plaintiff’s supervisor told plaintiff that the station’s weather presentation needed to be ‘younger and hipper,” the complaint states. “Defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment on June 1, 2018, with an effective date of July 31, 2018.”
Barach – a 38-year broadcast veteran who worked in Dallas, Orlando, Syracuse and other cities before his 13 years in this market – said he always has been serious about his career.
“I’ve dedicated my life to my career,” he said. “In 37 of those years, I had a spotless record – good reviews, no disciplinary actions. But after 37 years and 12 at the station, the station wants people to believe I became a completely unmanageable employee. It’s just ridiculous.
“It’s been very difficult for me to deal with. My professionalism has been called into question. And it all had to do, basically, with my age. We have a mountain of evidence. It’s a textbook case of age discrimination. As soon as I reached a certain milestone age, I got a horrific evaluation. I was placed on a work improvement program. I received disparaging emails from my superiors. My leadership was called into question. You name it. They gave me a one-year contract with no raise.
“It was obvious what their plan was. They were building a paper trail and putting together a list of offenses in case I filed a claim against them.”
The complaint says Barach was replaced with a 39-year-old person. In addition, a person in his early 30s was promoted to morning meteorologist and a person in his 20s was promoted to weekend meteorologist.
Barach says he was a victim of age discrimination, violating the West Virginia Human Rights Act and the Age Discrimination By Employment Act of 1967.
He said a few other Sinclair employees have been fired since 2015 under similar circumstances, but he said he others haven’t filed complaints because they wanted to continue their careers.
“I’d love to continue my career at some point, but it’s tough,” Barach said. “Age discrimination is becoming endemic. At my age, getting another job is very tough. It’s a very sad statement on the business and on the country. Everyone has a story about themselves or someone they know who has lost a job to someone younger or less qualified.”
Barach seeks compensatory damages – including lost wages and benefits – as well as damages for emotional distress. He also seeks punitive damages, attorney fees, court costs, pre-judgment interest and other relief.
He is being represented by Richard W. Walters and Carl W. Shaffer of Shaffer & Shaffer in Charleston. The case is being heard by Circuit Judge Gregory Howard.
Barach said it was “very unfortunate” that the end of his career at WCHS and WVAH happened the way it did.
“I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to everybody,” he said. “I miss being on the air. I felt I did an excellent job for the station. I was a committed employee. I won several awards. Not only that, but in my 13 years there, I called in sick four times. I had a tremendous track record. I was there countless times for severe weather, coming in early or leaving late, subbing for people when they were sick or on vacation. I was a very dedicated worker who took his job seriously.
“That’s what really hurts about this – the cowardice involved in this. If they had come up to me and said we’re letting you go, at least it would have been easier to take instead of them trying to tear me down. The last year was constantly one episode after another.
“So like I said, this was not my choice. I would’ve stayed there a few more years. I wasn’t ready to retire. I’m looking for something to do. I have a few good years left. I was at the top of my game. I’d like to continue my career.”
Cabell Circuit Court case number 18-C-563