Longtime abc27 personality and former 6ABC Action News anchor Flora Posteraro filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission last month, claiming she was forced out of the job she held for 20 years after speaking up about working conditions at the Harrisburg-based affiliate.
Now, Nexstar Media Group, which acquired abc27 in early 2017, is firing back. On Friday, the company issued a strongly worded statement denying Posteraro’s allegations about station manager Robert Bee and dubbing her claims of having been fired in retaliation “preposterous” and “patently false.”
“To be perfectly clear, there have been no complaints made or filed regarding sexual harassment or sexual misconduct against anyone at WHTM during Nexstar’s ownership of the station,” Nexstar senior vice president and regional manager Theresa Underwood said in the statement. Underwood confirmed that the company received an anonymous complaint from abc27 employees in August 2017, alleging gender discrimination. But after conducting an investigation, Underwood said, the evidence gathered by the company didn’t back up the employees’ claims.
“It is troubling that Ms. Posteraro has sought to attempt to align her complaint to the very serious issue of sexual harassment in the workplace through innuendo on social media and elsewhere,” she said.
Two current abc27 employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared facing repercussions at work, confirmed Posteraro’s allegations and said the claims made in the anonymous internal complaint to Nexstar’s human resources department were experiences shared by at least five employees. According to the complaint, which was obtained by Penn Live, “these experiences have not been isolated. They have become a pattern of behavior here at abc27 that should not be tolerated.”
“They’re under the impression harassment is just grabbing and groping,” one employee told the Inquirer and Daily News. “We witnessed the behavior. It’s puzzling to us when we see these things saying it never happened, the allegations are false, the complaint was without merit, because we were present for all of that behavior we experienced.”
According to page nine of the Nexstar Employee Guidebook, which was read from by a current staffer, the company’s definition of sexual harassment appears to include behavior like the allegations made by Posteraro and other staffers:
“Examples of prohibited behavior include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, obscene gestures, showing sexually graphic magazines, calendars or posters, sending explicit email or voicemail, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, such as uninvited touching of a sexual nature or sexually related comments.
“The conduct also includes, but is not limited to, sexual joking, vulgar or offensive conversation or jokes, conversation about your own or someone else’s sex life, and teasing or other conduct directed toward a person because of his or her gender.”
Terri Bush, vice president of human resources at Nexstar, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Posteraro nor her attorney, Charles Curley.
Posteraro claimed she was reassigned to the evening and weekend shift as punishment after complaining to management about Bee, including allegations that he referred to one of the network’s female anchors as a “fat pig” and used profanity to describe another. Posteraro refused to accept the position, which she considered a demotion, ultimately leading to her dismissal on March 12.
The complaint further alleged that Bee gave preferential treatment to male anchors while installing a restrictive dress code for female anchors, including banning sleeveless dresses due to the “flabby arms” of the women. He is also alleged to have referred to female anchors who defied his dress code as “streetwalkers.”
Underwood said Posteraro’s reassignment to the lower-rated weekend shift was based on “historical performance ratings, market research and general broadcast business knowledge.” Underwood added: “She was a valued member of the news team, and we wanted her to stay. We are disappointed that she rejected the contract renewal offer.”
The next step in Posteraro’s case is for an investigator assigned by the state to look into her claims and determine whether there is probable cause to sue. Once a ruling has been made, Posteraro could take Bee and Nexstar to court, where the company threatens to disclose “additional details” about the situation.
At least one advertiser, Capital BlueCross, has pulled all advertising from the station following Posteraro’s ouster.
“We decided to suspend advertising with abc27 until the public complaint against the station’s general manager is appropriately resolved,” Capital BlueCross said in a statement last week. “We take the matter of due process seriously and have not made any judgments as to fault in this matter. But we also take allegations of sexual harassment or retaliation in the workplace very seriously, leading us to this decision.”
Here is Posteraro’s full complaint: