A former advertising sales
representative is suing BH Media Group — the owner of the News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal — for
alleged violations of the Fair Pay Act and employment discrimination based on
race and gender, along with sexual harassment.
Gayla Price resigned from her
position as an advertising key account executive at the News & Record in April 2017. Price’s suit, filed in federal
court last week, asserts that her separation from the newspaper constituted
constructive discharge because of ongoing discrimination, retaliation and
Kelly Young, a former digital designer
at the newspaper who is also named as a defendant in the suit, was terminated
from the News & Record in March
2017 and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor indecent exposure in December of that
year, resulting in a sentence of court-ordered counseling for “sexually deviant
The lawsuit also names Berkshire
Hathaway Inc., the parent company of BH Media controlled by investor Warren
Buffett, and BH Media News & Record as defendants.
Price is now employed as the key
accounts executive in Triad City Beat’s
Price’s lawsuit contends the
defendants violated her rights to be free from sexual harassment and employment
discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. Price, who is a black woman, alleges
her former employer discriminated against her on the basis of race and sex.
The complaint also says that Price
“brings this collective action on behalf of herself and other similarly
situated female advertising sales employees of BH Media Group Inc. for
widespread and systemic discriminatory practices that have resulted in
substantial pay disparities for women sales associates at its 77 media
properties nationwide.” As part of a set of collective action allegations under
the Equal Pay Act, the lawsuit asserts that “Ms. Price seeks to represent all
females who are or have been in advertising sales positions at BH Media Group
properties, and maintains they were paid less than male advertising sales
employees for performing substantially equivalent work.”
Price declined to comment on the
lawsuit, while referring questions to her lawyer, Cate Edwards of the Edwards
Kirby law firm in Raleigh. Edwards, who is the daughter of former North
Carolina Sen. John Edwards, did not return messages for this story.
While extensively detailing
allegations of disparate pay, racism and sexual assault experienced by Price
during a 12-month period when she was employed at the News & Record, the lawsuit also charges that “Berkshire
Hathaway — from the top all the way down to its media properties — has a
male-dominated corporate culture ingrained with sexual harassment, dirty jokes
and inappropriate commentary about females.”
As evidence, the lawsuit cites a
2017 interview with Buffett in which he reportedly equated efforts to acquire
disinterested companies to a woman’s consent to sexual acts. “And if a lady
says no, she means maybe,” Buffett reportedly said in an interview with CNBC. “And
if she says maybe, she means yes. And if she says yes, she’s no lady.”
BH Media Group and Berkshire
Hathaway Inc., both based in Omaha, Neb., could not be reached for comment for
BH Media acquired the News & Record from Landmark Media
Enterprises in January 2013.
A Berkshire Hathaway Inc. ethics and
compliance brochure obtained by TCB quotes
Buffett as saying, “I want employees to ask themselves whether they are willing
to have any contemplated act appear the next day on the front page of their
local paper — to be read by their spouse, children and friends — with the
reporting done by an informed and critical reporter.”
Young’s sexual misconduct against at least two female employees at the News & Record, including Price and an unnamed reporter, has been previously detailed in Triad City Beat, but this is the first time Price’s allegations of employment discrimination have been publicly aired.
Soon after being hired by the News & Record in May 2016, Price
says she learned a white employee with comparable duties and less experience
was paid $5,000 more annually than she was.
In July 2016, Prices says that she
and a white male were both promoted to two new advertising key account
executive positions, despite the fact that her counterpart had no advertising
experience compared to her nine years of experience.
The suit alleges that the advertising director “regularly bypassed Ms. Price and gave university, bank, and venue client accounts to her white male counterparts.” And after Price brought the matter to the attention of human resources, the suit contends, the advertising director retaliated by withholding information from clients that she needed to do her job and by “making derogatory comments about minority advertising clients,” including NC A&T University and Compare Foods. The suit says the advertising director made a joke in front of Price and three white male colleagues that “the only way you can stop” Tarik Cohen — then the black running back for the NC A&T football team — was to “take a gun and shoot him,” which she perceived to be intimidating and threatening.
Price said the sexual harassment by
Kelly Young began shortly after she approached human resources to attempt to
resolve her discrimination complaint.
In the first of three incidents
detailed in the lawsuit, Price said Young walked up to her cubicle shortly
before Thanksgiving 2016 holding a manila envelope in front of his crotch and
then removed the folder to reveal his semi-erect penis in front of her face.
The lawsuit states, “Although HR had
repeatedly been notified of defendant Young’s sexual harassment of female
employees, nothing was done to address this outrageous sexual harassment.
Despite having perpetrated this egregious sexual misconduct at least ten times,
defendant Young was not terminated, put on leave, or otherwise disciplined.”
After Young was eventually fired in
March 2017, management learned that another employee attempted to report an
incident of sexual misconduct by Young as early as 2014. Daniel Finnegan, the
publisher of the News & Record at
the time, told TCB in December 2017:
“There was a breakdown, that is true. We’re not denying it. We’re being up
front about it. It was a single point of failure, not a systemic failure. One
person made a decision to not document this complaint.”
And although other employees told
managers they had been accosted by Young going back as early as January 2016,
Finnegan insisted in an interview with TCB
that the incident was not reported at the time, and management only learned
about it when Young was fired in March 2017.
In early 2017, Price said she
learned that Young been convicted of assault inflicting serious bodily harm for
“breaking a man’s jaw,” and “became concerned for her personal safety.”
Price said she met with Finnegan on
April 20, 2017 and “felt betrayed, shocked and disgusted” on learning that the
publisher had been aware of Young’s criminal behavior towards female employees
“since at least early November 2016.”
Alton Brown, the current publisher
of the News & Record and
Winston-Salem Journal, did not
respond to messages for this story.
Price said shortly after leaving the
News & Record, her psychiatrist
diagnosed her with severe anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress
“The ongoing discrimination and
retaliation she endured, paired with the discovery that her employer had
patently permitted ongoing, severe workplace sexual harassment by [a] harasser
that had previously been convicted of physical assault,” the lawsuit says, “created
a work environment that Ms. Price could no longer reasonably tolerate.”
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