FARGO - Former TV news anchor Robin Huebner wants her claims of gender and age discrimination against Valley News Live, which is broadcast in the Bemidji area, settled in federal court.
The 50-year-old filed a lawsuit Monday against Hoak Media, the parent company of Fargo television stations KXJB and KVLY, where Huebner anchored the prime-time newscasts for 21 years until she was reassigned last summer.
In the complaint, Huebner alleges that managers at KXJB/KVLY illegally discriminated against her when they demoted her in August in favor of a younger female anchor who reportedly appealed to male viewers.
Huebner resigned from Valley News Live on Oct. 17, about two months after she was removed as a co-anchor on the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts and replaced by 26-year-old Stephanie Goetz.
In her lawsuit, Huebner seeks at least $75,000 in damages, as well as punitive damages, for the station's alleged discrimination.
Jim Wareham, president and general manager of KXJB/KVLY, said Monday that the station stands by public statements made in October after Huebner's resignation.
"Robin was not let go of Valley News Live. She resigned her position," Wareham said, adding that the station continues to dispute all of Huebner's allegations of age and sex discrimination.
"Anybody can file a lawsuit," Wareham said. "We'll see how her claims do in court."
In the lawsuit, Huebner attempts to establish a record of good performance while contrasting that with her diminished role after Goetz arrived at the station in early 2011.
Huebner states that a performance review in October 2010 found that she was meeting all expectations at Valley News Live, and she was even named "Best TV anchor" in the Red River Valley by Forum readers in both 2008 and 2011.
She also said recent ratings indicated that she did well with the station's target viewing audience, women ages 25 to 54.
"During her time at the station, (Huebner) never had an unsatisfactory performance review, never received any disciplinary action, nor was she ever put on a performance improvement plan," the lawsuit states.
The situation at the station apparently changed when Goetz was hired as a reporter and anchor for Valley News Live's 5:30 p.m. newscast.
Huebner's lawsuit alleges the station heard from "numerous viewers" who complained about "Goetz's inexperience and unprofessional attire."
In response to one viewer's complaint, the lawsuit alleges, Griff Potter, then-news director at Valley News Live, emailed station employees and told them to "please delete the old bitty's ramblings and not give it another thought."
Potter also allegedly stated that Goetz appeals to husbands, "implying it is due to her youth and sex appeal," the lawsuit states.
On June 6, Huebner said she was told by male managers that she "lacks energy" and would be replaced by Goetz on the 10 p.m. newscast, "which is considered the flagship newscast for the station."
Valley News Live managers allegedly expressed the same concern with Mike Morken, who co-anchors the 10 p.m. show, but said Morken wouldn't be replaced, the lawsuit states.
In August, Huebner was moved to the anchor slot on the 5:30 p.m. KXJB newscast and continued to co-anchor at 6 p.m. on KVLY with Morken.
Anchoring the 5:30 p.m. show instead of the 10 p.m. show "is understood to be a substantial demotion" in broadcast journalism, Huebner's complaint states.
"It was also personally and professionally humiliating," the lawsuit reads.
Huebner's attorney, Jim Kaster, had no comment beyond the written complaint.
"Robin feels this matter should be determined in court," Kaster said.
Goetz said Monday she continues to wish Huebner well following her exit from the station.
"The latest developments are now between her and Valley News Live," Goetz said. "I will continue to do my job to the best of my ability."
In early October, Huebner filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a step that paved the way for the federal lawsuit.
She received the right to sue from the EEOC earlier this month, according to the lawsuit.
The Forum's parent company, Forum Communications Co., also owns WDAY-TV, which is a competitor of Valley News Live.