CBS’s Miami O&O Issued Summons In Freelancer Wage Dispute

BOCA RATON, FLA. — ViacomCBS’ CBS Television Stations has been issued a summons in a civil action brought against the owner of WFOR-4 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale by a former freelance reporter who claims the station engaged in wage discrimination — and, as a result, gender discrimination.

CBS now has until December 29 to respond. If not, judgment by default will be handed down by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The summons is tied to Harapeti v. CBS Television Stations, Inc., with the plaintiff former WFOR contract journalist Silva Harapeti, an Armenian American professionally known as Silva Harapetian.

Harapetian had worked at WFOR across much of the 2010s and as a non-exempt employee from February 2011 through March 16, 2018. That’s where the compensation calculations she arrived at prompted legal action.

On March 3, 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was arriving in South Florida, Harapetian filed the lawsuit. An amended statement of claim was made on May 18. In the revised claim, Harapetian notes that she earned $210 per day at WFOR. This comes out to $26.25 per hour. However, Harapetian argues, she was not compensated at all for any hours she worked over 40 hours.

Thus, Harapetian believes she is owed $62,015.63 in unpaid wages from CBS Television Stations. According to the filing, she “regularly worked at least 25 hours over her 40 hours.”

Further, Harapetian, through attorney Daniel Jesus Bajan of Remer & Georges-Pierre PLLC, argues that CBS’s decision to not pay overtime was intentional. Therefore, she is eligible to recover unpaid wages for three years prior to the filing of the complaint.

Then, on December 1, an amended complaint was filed on behalf of Harapetian with the court. This lawsuit includes three other plaintiffs, represented by the firm’s Peter Michael Hoogerwoerd: Angelica Alvarez-Ibarra, Tiani Jones and Don Champion. It seeks damages for unpaid wages and overtime due to misclassification of employee status under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

And, the plaintiffs are going after CBS “for unlawful, retaliatory discharge in violation of the FLSA.”

The amended complaint offers accusations that Harapetian was “always” passed over for a full-time reporter position, although she was told she would be considered for such a role. And, as younger individuals, including men, were hired, the claims of age and gender bias enter into the picture, Harapetian claims. The News Director at WFOR-4 is Liz Roldan, who has been in the role since 2011.

CBS Television Stations is defended by Akerman LLP and Baker McKenzie LLP.

Further, David Lewin of Century City, Calif.-based Berkley Research Group is being called upon to testify as an expert economist regarding Plaintiffs’ damages and/or
collective action damages.

The matter is now in the hands of Magistrate Judge Lauren Fleischer Louis.

In an unusual move, retired WFOR-4 reporter Gary Nelson, subpoenaed as a witness in this case, penned a lengthy account of the case — using Harapetian’s claims as a basis of fact — for Miami’s Community Newspapers, which are distributed free of charge to businesses and residences in Miami’s Brickell, Coconut Grove and downtown neighborhoods.

Nelson believes the ruling could impact all 29 CBS O&Os, and calls Harapetian’s case “unprecedented” — because others, such as Alvarez-Ibarra, Jones and Champion, were allowed to join in, and those at any other CBS O&O may do so as well.

What has CBS and WFOR-4 said of the matter?

Earlier this year, a court hearing saw WFOR’s Comptroller, Carl Larson, state that he was unable to dispute Harapetian’s claim that she was told to submit time sheets that misrepresented her actual hours.

Joel Goldberg, SVP/Operations for WCBS-2 in New York, said at the hearing that all CBS O&Os were believed to be in adherence with company freelance and per diem worker policies.

Yet, Nelson says CBS labor relations executive testified that for administrative “convenience,” per diem employees were instructed to list eight hours on their time sheets each day — a claim of Harapetian.

Formally, CBS considers the lawsuit without merit. First, Harapetian failed to bring it in a “timely basis,” and lacks evidence to support her claims.

But, Nelson pointed out in his coverage, CBS also admits that fellow freelancer Hank Tester earned more than Harapetian.

Tester is a 58-year veteran who has been a general assignment reporter with WFOR since 2015. Before that, he was at WTVJ-6 in Miami, and had been there since 1992.

In contrast, Harapetian since March 2013 has moonlighted as the founder of the “Media Mastery Institute,” and more recently has reinvented herself as a “top motivational speaker,” offering ways one can become “a better storyteller.” She ceased working for WFOR-4 in March 2018.

Before joining WFOR-4, Harapetian was a freelance contributor to The Nate Berkus Show, which aired on NBC owned-and-operated stations in the early part of the 2010s. Prior to that, she was a reporter for WDIV-4 in Detroit and, before that, at KXAN-TV in Austin. The 1996 USC graduate began her career at KMPH-26, the FOX affiliate in Fresno, in December 1998.

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