By Alex Lawson
(Law360, New York)
Fired NBC News reporter Frank W. Snepp sued his former employer in California state court Tuesday, alleging he was terminated because of his age and because he had complained about discrimination against older workers at the company.
The complaint against NBC News, a unit of Comcast Corp., alleged that the journalist was the victim of a so-called youth movement taking hold at the network when he was terminated in October 2012 at age 69, a policy that Snepp took steps to curb while he was still employed.
“Plaintiff is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that a substantial motivation for his termination was because of his age, as well as retaliation for his engagement in protected activity by complaining to management about age discrimination and ageism at NBC News,” the suit said.
Snepp was granted the prestigious Peabody Award in 2006 for his investigative work but was passed over for a critical promotion in favor of a younger and less qualified employee, the suit alleged.
Throughout his employment, Snepp made several complaints about the company's apparent age discrimination, including submitting a 150-page summary of his experiences at the network to his superiors. Snepp's experience with ageism was not unique, according to the complaint.
“Defendants know they have an issue with age discrimination and retaliation, but have done nothing to eradicate those issues, thus perpetuating and ratifying the unlawful discrimination,” the suit said.
After Snepp was let go by the network, the complaint said he was soon replaced by investigative reporters who were either under age 40 or “substantially younger” than Snepp.
Snepp's complaint seeks a jury trial and demands punitive and compensatory damages in an amount to be proven with evidence, along with attorneys' fees and expenses.
Ahead of bringing the suit, Snepp filed two separate administrative complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging age discrimination.
Snepp's attorney, Joel W. Baruch, told Law360 that the company has faced several age discrimination lawsuits in recent years from its journalists and pointed to Snepp's efforts to reform the company's policies while he was still under employment there.
"Basically, they fired him, and I think that they fired him in retaliation for this," Baruch said. "They have a youth movement and that's what they want, but it's against the law."
In an e-mailed statement, a spokeswoman for NBC said the suit was "without merit."
Snepp began working for the network in 2005 and established himself with a feature series about methane gas hazards within a prominent California commercial-residential project and various other stories centered on public health concerns, according to the suit. Before his employment at NBC, Snepp served as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency during the Vietnam War.
Snepp is represented by Joel W. Baruch and Nikki Fermin of the Law Offices of Joel W. Baruch PC.
Counsel information for NBC was not immediately available.
The case is Frank W. Snepp v. Comcast Corp. et al., case number BC523279, in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles.