TV giant Tegna faces discrimination accusations ahead of shareholder vote

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A hedge fund that’s looking to shake up the board at TV-broadcasting giant Tegna is pointing to allegations of sex discrimination and racial bias across the company, including accusations detailed in a trio of explosive lawsuits, The Post has learned.

Standard General — the firm headed by savvy financier Soo Kim whose holdings include the Bally’s casino chain — is looking to unseat three of Tegna’s 12 directors at the company’s shareholder meeting on Friday — and has sent the board a report containing allegations from the lawsuits as well as other employees.

One anonymous ex-employee interviewed for the confidential report by Quest Research & Investigations — a copy of which was exclusively obtained by The Post — claimed that Tegna Chief Executive Dave Lougee “did not let her answer his phone because she had a foreign accent.”

The former C-suite executive assistant also described a companywide meeting at which she claimed Lougee “derisively suggested a Black employee would want to shop at Payless, the now-defunct discount shoe store,” according to the report.

That’s on top of lawsuits from ex-employees in Indianapolis, Tampa Fla., and Washington DC detailing allegations of discrimination against women, minorities and people over 40 years old.

The allegations follow an embarrassing dustup for Lougee, who in March apologized to former Federal Communications Commission staffer Adonis Hoffman over a 2014 incident in which Lougee mistook the African-American for a hotel valet and asked him to get his car following a media industry event.

“Dave immediately acknowledged the incident and has stated that he made a mistake for which he had apologized immediately at the time of the incident,” Tegna said in a statement.

Kim had nominated Hoffman to Tegna’s board but Hoffman in March withdrew his nomination, saying it was partly because he could not get over the incident, according to Standard General.

Tegna — spun off from newspaper giant Gannett in 2015 as a separate, publicly traded company — operates 64 TV and 2 radio stations across 54 US markets. In addition to the discrimination beef, Kim’s Standard General gripes Tegna’s profit margins aren’t as good as those of rivals Nexstar Media and Gray Television. Proxy advisory group Institutional Shareholder Services has recommended voting for Tegna’s nominees, saying it does not see “a convincing case for change”.

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are vitally important to Tegna,” the company said in a Thursday statement. “Sadly, Standard General continues to exploit these crucial issues as a tactic. Not once before launching this proxy fight did Standard General seek constructive engagement with us about our approach to DE&I or offer us any ideas on the topic.”

After this story was published with Tegna’s rebuttal, Lougee sent this statement through Tegna: “I categorically deny these anonymous accusations and, as the leader of a journalism organization, am shocked the New York Post would report them without giving the subject a chance to respond.”

Tegna said it appointed a chief diversity officer last September, and that it has named a working group of 17 employees focused on increasing racial diversity through training and new policies. Tegna said people of color currently account for 25 percent of employees and 33 percent of its executive leadership team. It aims to boost minorities in management roles by 50 percent by the end of 2025.

“This is not a board that has been caught flatfooted or is reactive regarding issues of diversity and inclusion,” ISS said in a recent report.

Nevertheless, at Tegna’s WTHR-TV affiliate in Indianapolis, ex-anchor Andrea Morehead, a seven-time Emmy Award winner, sued the company after she was fired through an email on Jan. 11 after 21 years at the station. She claims that when she was briefly on sick leave during a treatment session for breast cancer, “she learned that male colleagues were taking $20 bets on when she might return,” according to the report.

“I experienced lots of harassment from management as it related to my time off,” she said, according to the report. “They never called me the N-word, but they treated me like that.”

Gregory Goggans, an Emmy Award-winning photographer at WTHR who was fired in 2019 after 25 years at the Indianapolis station, said his managers “would always trust me when big news happened,” but was harassed by managers after he raised concerns about racial bias in his annual review.

“They talk about diversity, but they never, ever implemented diversity,” Goggins said of Tegna, according to the report.

Danielle Flanagan, who had been a technical engineer at Tegna’s Washington D.C. TV station WUSA, filed a December 2019 suit against Tegna alleging rampant gender and age discrimination that also is still being heard.

“If anyone made a complaint, management would threaten to replace them,” Flanagan said, according to the report. “One manager told her he had a stack of applications ‘yay high’ from college kids who could do her job for less money. She recalled them saying: ‘Yeah, we need to get rid of you all. We have a bunch of college kids coming up who are going to do it much cheaper.’”

Reginald Roundtree, a 67-year-old former Tampa news anchor at Tegna’s Tampa Bay, Fla., station who is also suing in federal court, claims documents were found on a station manager’s desk which included a “hit list” of employees who were over the age of 40 and appear to have been targeted for termination.

Tegna fired Roundtree in February 2019, allegedly a week after Roundtree filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about a deep pay cut that has since been dismissed. Tegna said in court filings there was no “hit list” and denied targeting employees over 40 for termination.

A July 8 mediation conference is scheduled in the federal case, according to court records.

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