On June 19, a court case was filed that shook the Big Apple media scene to its core. Five veteran NY1 journalists — Roma Torre, Kristen Shaughnessy, Vivian Lee, Amanda Farinacci and Jeanine Ramirez — are suing the local cable-news channel. The women, ages 40 to 61, claim management engaged in age and gender discrimination, diminishing their roles while elevating younger, less experienced look-alikes.
All of the plaintiffs still work at the station — and, as Shaughnessy, 50, admits, it’s not an easy thing to sue your current employer.
The day the claim dropped, she was reporting from Manhattan Criminal Court and Rikers Island. When Shaughnessy, who has been at NY1 since 1995, returned to the newsroom around 5:30 p.m., she held her breath.
“I kind of prepared myself that Roma might be the only person talking to me that day,” Shaughnessy told The Post. “To my surprise . . . there were high-fives, hugs. Some people would walk by and wink. Others would say, ‘Good for you.’ I knew we would get some support, but I didn’t expect anything like that because people were so afraid of management.”
But over the next few days, fear did cloud the atmosphere.
“We had a meeting right after the lawsuit dropped. Nobody would sit next to Jeanine,” said one station employee who, like other sources interviewed for this story, asked to remain anonymous because they are concerned about retribution by management. “Now people are walking on eggshells. There’s a lot of whispering going on.”
Behind the scenes at NY1’s Chelsea Market studio, battle lines were being drawn. According to multiple sources, some employees are quietly supportive of the plaintiffs, while others feel the suit comes from a place of jealousy and a lack of understanding about ratings. Rivalries have been exposed, as have accusations of a “mean girls” clique on the morning show and cries of favoritism.
The suit calls out Pat Kiernan, the popular morning-show anchor who, over the past 22 years, has become the face of the news channel — claiming he enjoys perks other longtime employees do not, such as a new set and a splashy celebration marking his 20th anniversary at NY1. According to the claim, Torre received no such festivities for her 25th year. The suit also claims that Torre was told by management to “stop complaining” when she was forbidden from using the morning show’s set.
One station insider said that Torre’s grievances are sour grapes — and not about discrimination.
“I think Roma is jealous of Pat, and she wants to destroy him. Pat was one of the many people who were hurt by the lawsuit. And I think she’s just looking for a giant payout,” said the station insider.
“To say that this is ‘jealousy’ of the way [male colleagues] are treated is completely insulting and misses the point entirely,” Torre, 61, countered. “I have absolutely no . . . ill will towards Pat Kiernan.”
The NY1 employee, meanwhile, claims that the special treatment has inflated Kiernan’s ego and that people tread lightly around him, fearing tantrums. The station employee recalled the anchor lashing out when talent from afternoon shows wanted to use his set. (Kiernan, 50, declined to comment for this story.)
The station insider, while not denying the tantrum, said of Kiernan: “He treats people so fairly.”
Shaughnessy acknowledged the suit has brought out dissenters and angry colleagues.
“They have tried to make us uncomfortable and spread rumors. The bottom line is, we are telling the truth,” she said.
One of those who has vocally expressed her feelings about being named in the lawsuit is reporter Angi Gonzalez. The claim says that executives have apparently been grooming Gonzalez, along with colleagues including Shannan Ferry, 26, and Bree Driscoll, 36, as “literal ‘replacements’ that track each of Plaintiffs’ respective appearances and ethnic backgrounds,” alleging that the younger reporters have been getting plum assignments despite having far less experience than the plaintiffs. (“I found it offensive that I was compared simply based on my last name,” Gonzalez told The Post. “I don’t even know what [Ramirez’s] ethnicity is. I am half Dutch and half Mexican.”)
On June 24, Gonzalez tweeted: “As a child, my mom taught me about a good work ethic. She said there will always be someone younger, prettier or more well-connected than you so you always have to work your hardest to get what u want . . . No one is just going to give it to you.”
Gonzalez, 38, admitted to The Post, “That was me trying really hard to defend myself and speak my mind. One of the things I took issue with is being referred to as inexperienced. I have 16 years experience.”
But some aren’t having it. “In the days after the lawsuit, [Gonzalez] was posting some wild and passive-aggressive tweets. Her tweets are just rude,” said a former employee who is still tapped in to the newsroom.
Numerous sources told The Post that other employees named in the lawsuit have been making catty remarks in the workplace.
The former employee said the vitriol is disheartening. “Kristen and Roma have always been great mentors, and [the suit is] not personal . . . I don’t think any of [the younger reporters] realize this.”
It’s a surprising evolution for a place where the message used to be: sharp elbows need not apply.
“We didn’t pay as much as local stations but it wasn’t a cutthroat atmosphere,” former news director Dan Jacobson told The Post. “It was collegial and fair. That was a huge selling point for retaining people.”
Launched in 1992, NY1 was — as co-founder Richard Aurelio told Patch in 2017 — “a community service to the city.” On-air talent was relatable and the sets and graphics were amateurish, in a charming way.
Broadcasters like Torre, Lewis Dodley, Cheryl Wills, Shaughnessy and Kiernan became local celebrities, but no one was officially promoted as a station star.
The former employee recalled a family atmosphere where colleagues once chipped in to defray the cost of veterinarian bills after a colleague’s cat died.
But things shifted in 2016, when parent company Time Warner Cable merged with Charter Communications in a $65 billion deal. The new honchos reportedly wanted to give the station a slick makeover. But as they prettied up the place, ugliness surfaced.
“It became corporate and not fun anymore. People were getting written up for nonsense,” said the former staffer.
In March 2017, several longtime staffers, including “The Call” host John Schiumo and film critic Neil Rosen, were let go. Anthony Proia — who left in June — became the news director and former local-edition head Melissa Rabinovich, who had overseen the borough reporters, including “replacements” Ferry and Driscoll, was his deputy.
(Proia is accused in the suit of dismissing plaintiffs as “complainers” while Rabinovich was accused of marginalizing their roles.)
The former staffer said Rabinovich was a poor choice. “She likes to stir things up, sit back and watch it play out,” said the source, alleging that Rabinovich can be unfairly tough on employees. “She is literally Lucifer.”
The former staffer added that Rabinovich stepped up her ambition when Charter took over in 2016: “She was telling executives all of these plans for the future . . . I guess they drank the Kool-Aid.”
(A representative for Charter had no comment on this.)
The station insider agrees that Rabinovich — who has a child with special needs and a husband fighting cancer — isn’t always present but said she is communicative, if tough: “I have had it out with her but I never take it personally.”
Both the lawsuit and the station employee accuse Rabinovich of elevating to anchor spots reporters who aren’t ready for prime time — with the station employee adding that they sometimes mispronounce names and don’t possess institutional knowledge.
“I’m not saying Shannan Ferry won’t be a great anchor one day. But she’s not ready. Melissa is doing [the ‘replacements’] a disservice by not making them earn their stripes in the field like Kristen and Roma did.
If news breaks, I can hand Roma a three-line press release and she can go on air for three hours,” said the station employee.
But, the station insider alleged, Shaughnessy and Ramirez, 49, have also benefited from favoritism.
“Kristen and Jeanine were very close with the woman who [formerly] ran the schedule, so they got first dibs on filling in when Pat was on vacation,” said the station insider.
The suit claims Shaughnessy lost her unofficial role as a Kiernan fill-in after the 2017 launch of “Mornings on 1.” Now business anchor Annika Pergament has the gig.
Much of the behind-the-scenes gossip swirls around the morning show, which features Kiernan, Pergament, traffic reporter Jamie Stelter and meteorologist Stacy-Ann Gooden. Jealousies brewed when Charter poured resources into the show’s launch, including the new set, subway and bus ads, and promotional videos that were verboten under Time Warner.
“The execs have made things shiny and nice for the people they want to make things shiny and nice for,” said the station employee, alleging that the morning show is filled with egos.
Said the former employee, “It’s like a ‘mean girls’ environment. Jamie has an inflated sense of self. Pat, Jamie and Annika . . . are very cliquey.”
According to the Charter spokesperson, “Mornings on 1” is a hit: “Household ratings are over twice as high as all [of NY1’s] weekday live news and original programs, and 60 percent higher than all live news and original programs.”
Indeed, sources say that the plaintiffs seemingly don’t want to accept that Kiernan gets special treatment because he has earned it.
“When you come in at 3 a.m. and you work hard to put on a good show and someone [else] is dialing it in, there are things that are easy to misinterpret,” the station insider said of Kiernan’s attitude. “It’s his name on the line.”
The Charter rep added, “We know that viewers are loyal to certain individuals. As is typical with any network, we have emphasized the most popular programming, our ‘Mornings on 1’ show.”
Tensions flared up even more two weeks ago, when Torre complained that she was passed over to anchor the ticker-tape parade for the US Women’s National Soccer Team, in favor of Kiernan and Stelter.
Torre penned an open letter to Mayor de Blasio asking him to condemn the station, which, according to the station insider, eroded some of the support for the plaintiffs.
“Don’t use your personal vendetta to try and corrupt the credibility of the newsroom,” said the station insider. “A lot of people who work here have nothing to do with your problems.”
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