Update below: The saga of former KMOV-TV (Channel 4) news anchor Larry Conners just got a whole lot more complicated.
Since his firing, his attorneys have filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights alleging that his bosses terminated him in retaliation for a dispute he had with the station in 2010 regarding his salary. In that legal battle, Conners writes in the complaint, he had alleged that KMOV was unfairly paying him less than his co-prime anchor, Vickie Newton, "an African-American female; I claimed that I received less compensation than Newtown because of my race and gender."
Since the resulting arbitration against KMOV and parent company Belo concluded in April 2012, Conners alleges in the new complaint, his bosses have treated him differently -- eventually leading to his firing this month.
See also: - KMOV-TV's Larry Conners Says IRS May Have Been Targeting Him For Years - Larry Conners Talks KMOV-TV Firing, Defends IRS Facebook Post, Integrity - KMOV's Larry Conners Off Air After IRS Comments, Says Not Allowed To Talk
The accusations in this formal complaint, sent out by his attorneys this morning, come as quite a surprise just weeks after the Conners controversy erupted.
Two weeks ago, Conners speculated on his Facebook page whether the IRS had targeted him in response to an April 2012 interview he did with President Obama. He later read a statement on-air admitting he had issues with the IRS several years prior and said that his views were his own.
Mark Pimentel, KMOV's president and general manager, said the firing was because Conners had violated the journalistic standards of the news organization by taking a stance on a national political story.
Conners, in an interview with us, said that he was forced to read a misleading on-air statement that made him look like a "tax cheat" and said that his problems with the IRS did intensify after the interview with Obama. He also argued that he never compromised his standards as a journalist, given that he was simply raising a question.
Now, however, it seems his formal complaint has delved into a whole new controversy, alleging that the decision to fire him was direct retaliation for a separate dispute.
The complaint, full document on view below, says, referring to the pay disparity legal battle:
Since that arbitration concluded in April 2012, I have been treated differently by KMOV. Most recent examples include: [News Director Sean] McLaughlin and Pimentel demoted me from prime anchor reporting the news at the 10pm and 5pm and/or 6pm broadcasts to only anchoring the 6pm broadcast, McLaughlin stopped sending me out to field anchor major breaking news stories, Pimentel only offered me a two year contract renewal but effectively only provided me with an additional 16 months of employment.
After returning from medical leave last year, he claims he was demoted to anchoring only the 6 p.m. broadcast.
Further, he argues that before the salary discrimination complaint, he "always discussed current news topics" on his KMOV Facebook page. "However, since my complaints, Pimentel and McLaughlin have severely scrutinized my comments; prevented me from continuing my Facebook discussion about the IRS controversy...directed me to read a statement on air that was inaccurate; blocked my access to my KMOV Facebook page, Twitter and KMOV email accounts...and terminated my employment with KMOV."
He argues that other news staff and anchors were not prohibited from discussing news stories or personal experiences on their KMOV Facebook pages.
He concludes, "As a result of the conduct of KMOV, Pimentel and McLaughlin, I have suffered damages, including but not limited to: lost wages, emotional distress, humiliation, and damage to my good reputation as a news reporter and anchor in the St. Louis regions for the past 37 years."
We left a message for Conners this morning, who is filling in for conservative radio host Dana Loesch. We also left a message for Pimentel, who in a previous interview with us, noted that, just one month ago, KMOV and Conners had signed a multi-year contract. He said, "Clearly, Larry was a part of our longer term plan," essentially arguing that the termination was solely due to the Facebook controversy.
We also reached out to Vickie Newton.
Merle Silverstein, Conners' attorney, declined to comment beyond the complaint.
Update, 3:45 p.m: Daily RFT just heard back from Pimentel this afternoon who denies that the anchor's termination had anything to do with past disputes -- or Conners' age, race or gender.
"We disagree strongly with all of his allegations," Pimentel says.
He also points out the previous gender and race discrimination charges were not merited -- according to a "neutral arbiter," who, Pimentel says, Conners helped select at the time.
"The arbitration process was confidential and private and we honored that," Pimentel says. "But in light of Mr. Conners' election not to, we believe it's appropriate to point out that after a full two days of arbitration, the arbiter found no merit whatsoever to Larry's claims and ruled in favor of KMOV on all counts."
He reiterates, "Larry's recent termination had nothing whatsoever to do with his age, his prior complaints of discrimination or his leaves of absence."
Pimentel says he stands by his previous statements regarding the violation of journalistic standards in Conners' Facebook post. That was the reason for his termination, he says.
Pimentel notes that last month, "KMOV signed Larry to a new, two-year high-salary contract with no pay cut to stay with KMOV and we signed the contract because we valued Larry and we wanted him to stay."
He says that KMOV plans to vigorously defend against the claims and adds, "We've engaged in no wrongdoing."
Here's the full complaint.