Slap in face for young blondes as over-40 wins TV bias case

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The Independent Online
IF YOU have ever been infuriated by the formulaic TV news shows in the US, which pair a blandly handsome male of any age with a decidedly under- forties blonde, this verdict is for you. A court in Connecticut has awarded Janet Peckinpaugh, who is now very much the "wrong" side of 40 but still almost blond, more than $8m (pounds 5m) in compensation after she was dropped as a $200,000-plus-a-year news presenter.

The award, which is subject to appeal, is for lost earnings, hurt feelings and breach of contract. Within hours, the implications were reverberating through the glitzy world of American television, where one (female) executive defended the policy of pairing young women with mostly older men as mirroring "the man and woman in the audience".

Ms Peckinpaugh had sued the WFSB network, which is an affiliate of CBS, on multiple counts of sex and age discrimination. She claimed that she had elected to remain at the station in earlier years - turning down lucrative offers from national stations - because of assurances that she would be able to "grow grey" on the air. Unfortunately for Ms Peckinpaugh, this is not what happened. Her network turned out to be just like all of the others.

One day in 1994, she was called in to re-audition for her job, paired with a new male presenter. So were the two other female presenters. The tapes were shown to a "cross-section" of viewers, and Ms Peckinpaugh - the oldest of the three - came last. Her contract was not renewed, and she was reduced to an early-morning presenter's job at a much smaller station on 20 per cent of her previous pay.

One of Ms Peckinpaugh's complaints was that the station never even considered pairing two of the women presenters, so determined were they to keep the male-female pairing that pervades American TV. Almost the only time two female presenters are paired is on public holidays (when the men seem to get the day off) and on minor specialist stations, like the Weather Channel and Court TV. Even then, the male- female pairing is more usual.

Strictly speaking, the jury found WFSB liable for discrimination on the basis of sex, not age, but the two were so closely bound together that it hardly mattered. The few women who survive on screen past their forties become interviewers or executives. The coveted role of news presenter goes to the men.

If he needs extra authority, he is paired with a bubbly or modest young woman.