Employees, advertisers flee abc27 in Harrisburg after allegations of harassment and verbal abuse

abc-27-former-employees-departed
(Clockwise from top left) Former abc27 personalities Amanda St. Hilare, Megan Frank, Carrie Perry and Dawn White. They are among the 11 employees who have departed the station since March, when allegations of harassment and verbal abuse first surfaced.

What’s going on at abc27?

The Harrisburg-based ABC affiliate, owned by Nexstar Media Group since January 2017, has experienced an exodus of talent and advertisers since Flora Posteraro, the station’s news anchor for 20 years and one-time 6abc Action News reporter and weekend anchor, claimed she was forced out for speaking up about working conditions in the newsroom.

At least 10 employees — seven women and three men — have either left or given notice since Posteraro exited the station in March, the Inquirer and Daily News confirmed through interviews with former employees and their social media posts. Posteraro accused station manager Robert Bee of disparaging and demeaning female anchors while giving preferential treatment to their male counterparts, and at least six of the now-former employees, including two men, cite workplace conditions as factors in their departures.

In some cases, employees left without another full-time job waiting for them. Others have opted out of contracts after less than a year at the station, despite strict non-compete clauses and potentially owing hefty “buybacks” to Nexstar.

Reached for comment, Bee said, “We don’t respond to personnel matters.” Nexstar declined to comment, also citing personnel issues.

Carrie Perry, a former correspondent for the network’s Good Day PA segment, was one of several ex-staffers to explain her departure on social media, writing on Facebook in June that “the climate for women is simply not favorable” and that “the station was no longer conducive to quality work.”

UPDATED: I’m grateful for the kind words expressed in comments and private messages. I feel I should be clear and state…

Posted by Carrie Mailey Perry on Friday, June 1, 2018

Dawn White, a reporter who covered York County, wrote on Facebook in May that she left the station “due to the current work environment and climate.”

UPDATE: I just wanted to clarify after reading some comments my departure is completely voluntary. The news director…

Posted by Dawn White on Friday, May 25, 2018

Investigative journalist Amanda St. Hilaire, who recently accepted a position in Milwaukee, wrote that women don’t “deserve to be called derogatory names by colleagues or supervisors” or “subjected to verbal abuse or disparaging comments about your weight, physical attributes, gender, age, or ability to have children.”

This is the longest post I’ve ever written; it’s also the most important.As you may have heard, today was my last day…

Posted by FOX6 Investigator Amanda St. Hilaire on Thursday, June 21, 2018

And Megan Frank, a reporter who once worked at WHYY and interned at the Inquirer and Daily News, announced her departure on Facebook in June by noting that women in journalism “should be uplifted and respected.” Frank has since deactivated her Facebook page.

Most staffers who left were on-air personalities. The station is now advertising a number of job openings on its website, including two multimedia journalists, and photojournalist, a meteorologist and an account executive.

It’s not just employees who have fled the ABC affiliate. Four companies — Giant Food Stores, Faulkner Automotive Group, Platinum Preowned LLC and Capital Blue Cross — have all pulled their ads in response to the allegations about the work environment within the station.

“In my opinion, for them to rectify the situation they would have to dismiss Bob Bee, and acknowledge the fact that these claims are legitimate,” said Mike Dorazio, the owner of Platinum Preowned. “If it’s just one person, okay. If it’s two people, it might just be their buddy. You’re talking multiple employees leaving an employer.”

>> READ MORE: Ex-Action News anchor Flora Posteraro claims harassment, retaliation in ouster from abc27

“Following recent allegations against ABC 27’s general manager, GIANT Food Stores has decided to temporarily suspend our advertising with the station until the matter is appropriately resolved,” GIANT said in a statement earlier this month. “We are fully committed to supporting fair and safe workplace environments.”

Employees have backed Posteraro’s allegations

Camera icon Flora Posteraro
Former abc27 anchor Flora Posteraro (left), seen her joking with former colleague Ali Lanyon, claims she was forced out of the station after complaining internally about misconduct by station manager Robert Bee.

After leaving the station, Posteraro filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, claiming Bee referred to a female anchor as a “fat pig” and used profanity to describe another. It further alleged that Bee gave preferential treatment to male anchors while installing a restrictive dress code for women, including banning sleeveless dresses due to their “flabby arms,” and called female anchors who defied his dress code “streetwalkers.”

That filing came after Posteraro and four other employees had made an anonymous complaint to Nexstar’s human resources department. According to the complaint, “these experiences have not been isolated. They have become a pattern of behavior here at abc27 that should not be tolerated.” In interviews, multiple former female employees said they experienced the abusive environment outlined in the complaints.

Nexstar’s legal team, Posteraro, and her lawyer, Charles Curley, all declined to comment.

Nextstar senior vice president and regional manager Theresa Underwood said in a statement in April that evidence gathered by the company in an investigation of employees’ allegations of gender discrimination and verbal harassment didn’t back up the workers’ claims.

>> READ MORE: abc27 employees back up Flora Posteraro’s claims of harassment, retaliation

“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,” Underwood said in the statement.

Allegations emerge in Wilkes-Barre

The alleged behavior also doesn’t appear to be limited to abc27. A former employee and a current employee at NBC affiliate WBRE in Wilkes-Barre, which is also owned by Nexstar, said they heard Bee make similarly disparaging comments to and about female employees while he served as the station’s vice president and general manager. Bee led the Wilkes-Barre station from January 2012 to January 2017.

“Everybody would describe him as the uncle you couldn’t take anywhere, because of his mouth, because of his behavior,” a female employee at the station said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she fears repercussions at work.

Problems at other Nexstar stations

abc27 and WBRE aren’t the only Nexstar stations where allegations about sexual harassment and workplace misconduct have surfaced.

In Louisiana, a former female news director claimed in an arbitration filing obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News that she was terminated after having filed a human-resources complaint when her male supervisor became extremely angry and lunged at her “in a fit of rage.” In Vermont, a vice president and general manger is being sued by a former employee who claims that rampant sexual harassment forced her to leave her job as a sales executive.

Terri Bush, Nexstar’s vice resident of human resources, declined to comment on those allegations.

Nexstar, which is headquartered in Irving, Texas, owns 170 television stations nationwide, most major network affiliates. All told, Nexstar reaches 100 television markets. In addition to Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, the company owns two other stations in Pennsylvania in Altoona and Erie.