HUNTINGTON – A former WOWK-TV reporter has filed a lawsuit accusing the station of racial and sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Aaliyah Brown filed her complaint Dec. 10 in Cabell Circuit Court against Nexstar Broadcasting Inc., which operates WOWK. Brown is a resident and native of Odenton, Md., and a West Virginia University graduate.
Her attorney says he feels good about the case.
“We’re confident that we’ll be able to prove it,” said Hoyt Glazer, who operates the Law Office of Hoyt Glazer in Huntington. “She was the sole African-American female reporter for the entire Huntington area. Her employer judged her by the color of her skin.”
According to her complaint, Brown, who is black, began working at WOWK in September 2017 as a reporter. Brown says the station failed to provider her proper training, equipment and direction to perform her job.
“Individuals hired after Ms. Brown who performed similar duties received extensive training and direction concerning their duties along with mentors to help with additional concerns of the job,” the complaint states. “Throughout her employment, the defendant accused Ms. Brown of not performing her job properly.”
Brown includes some examples in the complaint, such as being told the lighting in her news reports was incorrect. But she says she never was properly shown how to correct the settings on the camera to fix the problem.
On one assignment, Brown says she was sent to cover an event at a local church by a white male co-worker. But when she arrived, she learned the event wasn’t scheduled until months later.
“When Ms. Brown called the co-worker and told him she could not do the story because the event was not scheduled and she had to find a new story for the day, the co-worker accused Ms. Brown of being hostile toward him,” the complaint states. “Ms. Brown timely reported her being called hostile by the white male co-worker to defendant’s human resources representative.”
The HR representative told Brown the co-worker should not have told her that because he wasn’t her superior, but Brown says the station did not talk to the co-worker about the incident.
Brown also claims WOWK gave her less favorite assignments than the other reporters, all of whom were white.
“When Ms. Brown would present her story ideas, defendant would purposely deny Ms. Brown’s story ideas,” the complaint states. “However, defendant consistently approved the stories of its white employees.”
Brown says the station forced her to take ideas from the assignment desk on weekends and at least two days per week. And she says if she didn’t receive an idea from the assignment desk, she was required to drive about “two hours to a town in Ohio or Kentucky to look for a story idea” and then “drive back to Huntington to put the story together before the 5 o’clock evening newscast.”
Brown says the other reporters were not required to do this. She says the news directors – two white males and one white female – “immediately approved the story ideas of its white reporters.”
Brown says WOWK employed only three other black people during her time there: a male sports anchor, a male photographer and a female producer. She says the female producer was hired about a month after she was and experienced treatment in the Charleston office so unfair that it “caused her to resign from her job with the defendant after less than two months of employment.”
Then, on March 7, the station alleged Brown was seen “blowing past” another car. That driver allegedly called to notify the station’s news director of her driving.
The next day, WOWK fired Brown “based on the allegation that she was a liability to the company due to speeding while traveling during her entire employment.”
“The defendant did not show Ms. Brown any logs or other documents allegedly reflecting that she had been speeding during her employment,” the complaint states. “A few months after Ms. Brown was hired, another white male employee wrecked a company vehicle when he recklessly hit another car. Defendant did not terminate said employee or otherwise take adverse employment action against him.”
In fact, Brown says WOWK required her and the employee who wrecked the vehicle to share a vehicle for two months. She also claims other employees “who were not African-American often violated traffic rules, including speed limits, but did not receive any disciplinary or other adverse employment action.”
Brown denies speeding and claims any alleged speeding was done by “the other driver of the car and/or that defendant had no basis for accusing her of speeding.”
Because of her firing, Brown says she has suffered lost wages and other employment benefits, depression, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life and was forced to move back in with her parents.
Brown accuses WOWK of race discrimination and a hostile work environment. She seeks damages for lost wages, lost compensation and benefits, costs of securing new employment, costs of treatment for emotional and physical harm and other damages. She also seeks compensatory damages for annoyance, inconvenience, embarrassment, anxiety, humiliation and other emotional harm. She also seeks punitive damages as well as attorney fees, court costs, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief.
“As for the reason for her termination, we believe that there were other employees who routinely disregarded traffic policies,” Glazer said. “This is illegal pretext.
“She’s up in the Pittsburgh area now. We believe this really harmed her career. We’re always trying to attract people to our state. But when employers do this, it makes it harder for people to want to come here and stay here.”
The case is the second lawsuit filed against a Huntington-Charleston area television station by a former on-air personality in the last two months. Former WCHS and WVAH meteorologist Jim Barach sued the sister stations and their parent company in November, claiming he was fired because of his age.
Brown's case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell.
Cabell Circuit Court case number 18-C-622