US weatherman goes to war against the TV 'auto-cuties'
They are as much a part of the American television experience as daytime soaps, canned laughter and cheaply produced infomercials. But if one angry meteorologist gets his way, "auto-cutie" weathergirls may become a thing of the past.
Kyle Hunter, an award-winning weatherman who claims to have spent 20 years as a forecaster in Southern California, claims his applications for presenting jobs at local CBS stations were ignored or rebuffed solely because he was not a good-looking, 20-something female. His lawyer, Gloria Allred, said it was one of the first times a man had tried to claim unfair discrimination, under Californian employment law, on the grounds of his gender.
Mr Hunter, who describes himself in legal papers as "over the age of 40 years", alleges that his treatment by the CBS channels KCBS and KCAL also amounted to age discrimination. He is duly seeking "unspecified" damages. The lawsuit tells how, despite being a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society who has worked in every Southern Californian TV market, Hunter was passed over for two jobs in favour of young women with no meteorological qualifications.
"It appears that the defendants do not want knowledgeable weather professionals as their prime-time weather broadcasters," it reads. "It appears instead that they want attractive young women, and only attractive young women, broadcasting the weather."
Hunter was not even interviewed for the jobs, which he applied for in 2010 and 2011, despite being "far more qualified, and far more experienced" than the women who were given the positions. A court will now have to decide whether a company's right to freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the US Constitution, trumps its obligations under employment law. Either way, Mr Hunter's complaint is likely to strike a chord with viewers who have long bemoaned the "dumbing down" of TV weather reports.
Ms Allred's involvement in the case is likely to divide opinion. A high-profile Hollywood lawyer, who achieved fame representing the family of Nicole Brown Simpson, the murdered wife of OJ, she has represented a string of high-profile clients, including, in the past couple of years, the mistresses of everyone from Tiger Woods to Hermann Cain.
She styles herself as a campaigning attorney who takes pride in representing vulnerable underdogs, particularly in cases that involve women's rights. However, critics have wondered if her media-savvy practice is better at securing headlines than winning cases for clients.
CBS, meanwhile, has made clear that it intends to contest the claim vigorously. A statement said: "The complaint is frivolous and based on gross mis-statements of fact. There was no need for the stations to interview someone we were already well aware of. The forecast calls for a vigorous defence by CBS and an early dismissal of the complaint."
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