A Dallas area CBS affiliate is being sued for age discrimination after it passed on hiring Tammy Dombeck Campbell, a veteran traffic reporter in her 40s who had already been filling in at the television station as a freelancer for more than two years.
Instead, KTVT News — known locally as “CBS 11” — chose a much younger applicant who did not meet the qualifications posted in the station’s own job listing, according to a statement by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, alleging the station violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
According to the EEOC complaint, Campbell began working for CBS 11 as a “freelance, nonstaff traffic reporter” in February 2013, filling in on occasional morning and evening news broadcasts and backing up the full-time morning traffic reporter.
More than a year-and-a-half later, in October 2014, the station’s full-time morning traffic reporter resigned, and CBS 11 began searching for a replacement. The station’s job announcement noted that its ideal candidate would have on-air traffic reporting experience, as well as “strong knowledge of local traffic in the Dallas/Fort Worth area,” according to the EEOC complaint. The job listing also required that applicants have at least five years of professional broadcasting experience, the complaint said.
Campbell, who had worked 12 years as a full-time traffic reporter for rival station NBC 5 — earning her the nickname “Gridlock Buster” with local fans — applied for the CBS 11 position and told managers she was interested in the job. She also continued to fill in as the station’s morning traffic reporter after the full-time staffer resigned, the suit stated.
In December 2014, CBS 11 offered the job to a 27-year-old applicant who accepted the position, then she ended up withdrawing her application before she started. The suit alleges this applicant had neither broadcast experience in the Dallas/Fort Worth area nor “strong knowledge” of local traffic.
Meanwhile, CBS 11 resumed its search and asked Campbell to continue filling in as the morning traffic reporter on a freelance basis. Campbell agreed — and once again told managers she would be interested in the full-time job.
After the second search, the station passed on Campbell once again, this time hiring a 24-year-old woman who did not have five years of professional broadcasting experience or any broadcast experience in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, according to the EEOC.
“Tammy Campbell was clearly qualified for the position of traffic reporter,” EEOC senior trial attorney Joel Clark said in a statement. “We are confident that the station’s ratings were favorable during the time that she filled in as the morning traffic reporter. But the station clearly preferred a younger face and a less-qualified applicant based on unfounded stereotypes about female reporters in broadcast television.”
A spokesman for CBS Stations Group of Texas, a division of the New York-based CBS Corp. that owns and operates KTVT, denied the allegations outlined in the complaint. “KTVT respectfully disagrees with the EEOC’s current assessment and looks forward to resolving this matter,” CBS spokesman Mike Nelson told The Washington Post in an email.
After the hiring decision was made in 2015, Campbell publicly expressed her disappointment and indicated to local media that age may have been a factor. Now 44, she was 42 when she applied for the job, according to the suit.
“All the girls they auditioned for this job were in their 20s,” Campbell told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2015. “I didn’t have a chance. Frustrating.”
She has since launched an independent series of videos featuring local restaurants and businesses called “Greets, Eats & All That With Tammy Dombeck.” It was, she says in her bio, her attempt to reinvent herself in 2015 “in a world of constant change.”
Campbell’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request to interview Campbell on Wednesday morning. The EEOC said it tried to reach a settlement with CBS 11 through a conciliation process, but when that failed, filed the lawsuit.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, was passed in 1967 and prohibits employers from using age to discriminate against those who are 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40.
“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ADEA, and while the law itself is getting ‘older,’ it remains very relevant and continues to make a positive difference in the workplace,” Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the Dallas EEOC district office, said in a statement. “That’s often the same thing that could be said for older employees who can certainly contribute to the success of a business if they’re given the opportunity.”
Over the last 20 years, age-related-discrimination charges filed with the EEOC steadily increased until a peak in 2008, and have gradually decreased since. According to the commission’s records, 20,857 ADEA-related-charges were filed with the EEOC last year. In 2008, there were 24,582 age-related-discrimination charges filed with the commission.
“Unfortunately, we can’t speculate on why the numbers are what they are,” EEOC spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown told The Post.
Of the EEOC age-discrimination cases that reached a resolution last year, less than 7 percent was settled. Prejudice against older workers “remains among the most acceptable and pervasive ‘isms,’ ” often lurking in coded language in job postings, as Lydia DePillis reported for The Washington Post Magazine last year:
[These biases] surface in job postings for “recent college graduates,” applicants who “enjoy the pressures of the job” and those who can “fit in with a young team.” Over-50 job seekers are advised to update their wardrobes and hairstyles, purge their résumés of positions held during the Reagan administration and, above all, “show enthusiasm.” Projecting “energy” is another common tip, as if lethargy kicks in only after 40.
And what of the legal protections for older workers? Federal anti-age-discrimination laws haven’t proved to be an effective deterrent, says University of Houston professor emeritus Andrew Achenbaum. Proving you were passed over because of your age is devilishly difficult, and the EEOC has a large backlog of complaints that it hasn’t had the resources to deal with.
“I wouldn’t mess around with [gender bias] if I were a university,” Achenbaum says. “But I’m willing to take my chances on age discrimination, because there are so many [cases] that are unsolved.”
In an interview Tuesday with Ed Bark, a former TV critic at the Dallas Morning News, Campbell described the ordeal as “humiliating, extremely upsetting and unfair.” She added that, despite several co-workers telling her she had suffered “blatant age discrimination,” she was simply going to let it go — until her husband convinced her to move forward with a complaint.
“It took a toll on my self-worth,” she told Bark. “My hope now is to inspire others that when you are going up against either a major broadcasting corporation or a small employer who you feel has treated you unfairly, the EEOC has laws in place to prevent this kind of discrimination. . . . I just hope it empowers others to not turn away from making their employers accountable.”