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Gannett Inc, Publisher of the News Leader, Faces Class-Action Suit Over Alleged Race Discrimination

Written by: Michael Phillips

STAUNTON, VA - Gannett Inc., one of the largest media holding companies in the U.S., and the publisher of the Staunton News Leader, is facing a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of several employees, accusing the media giant of racial discrimination against non-minority workers. The lawsuit, filed on August 18, 2023, under U.S.C. § 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, claims Gannett engaged in "an intentional, company-wide, and systematic practice of discrimination."

Discrimination by the Numbers?

According to the lawsuit, the company has been implementing racial quotas for their newsrooms, aiming for the racial demographic of each newsroom to match that of the community it serves. While promoting diversity can be laudable, the plaintiffs argue that Gannett's approach has morphed into a form of "reverse race discrimination." Specifically, the company is accused of incentivizing executives to reduce the number of non-minority workers, allegedly giving preferential treatment to minority workers in areas such as hiring, promotions, and salary.

The Plaintiffs and Their Demands

The class-action suit is spearheaded by named plaintiffs Steve Bradley, Stephen Crane, Noah Hiles, Barbara Augsdorfer, and Logan Barry. Represented by Bernard J. DiMuro, Esq., they assert that Gannett's actions have "adversely and directly affected the terms, conditions, and privileges" of their employment, causing them "the indignity of discrimination and invasion of their right to be free from discrimination."

Among their demands, the plaintiffs are seeking:

  1. Certification of the Class: They request that the court officially recognize the group of similarly affected employees.

  2. Injunctive Relief: An order requiring Gannett to eliminate the alleged discriminatory policies.

  3. Damages: Various forms of compensation, including back pay and future lost wages.

  4. Punitive Damages: To punish the company for willful disregard of federal law.

  5. Civil Penalties: As provided by relevant statutes.

  6. Legal Fees: To cover the costs of the lawsuit, including attorney and expert fees.

High Stakes for Media Diversity

This case puts a spotlight on the fine line between fostering diversity and enacting policies that could be seen as discriminatory. As newsrooms across the country strive to be more representative of the communities they cover, the lawsuit could serve as a cautionary tale, urging companies to revisit and potentially recalibrate their diversity initiatives.

The case also raises important questions about the ethical and legal responsibilities of media companies in shaping not just their journalistic output but also their internal cultures. Legal experts suggest that depending on the outcome, this could set a precedent for how media companies approach diversity and inclusion moving forward.

Gannett Responds

As for Gannett's response, it appears the media giant is prepared to come out swinging. Breaking Through was provided the following statement by Polly Grunfeld Sack, Chief Legal Counsel of Gannett Inc: "Gannett always seeks to recruit and retain the most qualified individuals for all roles within the company. We will vigorously defend our practice of ensuring equal opportunities for all our valued employees against this meritless lawsuit."

As the court proceedings unfold, it will be crucial to watch how the media giant defends its policies and whether this case sparks a broader conversation on race, representation, and responsibility within the industry.

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