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Wendy Reuer, Published April 12 2013

Portion of Huebner suit dismissed

FARGO – A federal judge has dismissed a portion of a lawsuit in which Fargo anchorwoman Robin Huebner claims a local TV station illegally discriminated against her on the basis of her age and gender.

In a judgment issued Thursday, U.S. Judge Ralph Erickson said Huebner failed to prove she was “constructively discharged” from Valley News Live in October 2011, which is required under the portion of her lawsuit filed under federal law.

Erickson granted the request by Hoak Media – the Texas-based parent company of Valley News Live – to dismiss the federal claims. In Erickson’s judgment, he writes it was clear that Huebner did not allow a reasonable opportunity for Hoak to correct the situation, as required under federal law.

However, Erickson denied Hoak’s request to dismiss the age and gender bias claims made under state laws.

“Under state law, Huebner need only prove she suffered an adverse employment decision, a standard she is able to meet. …,” Erickson wrote in court documents.

That clears the way for the portion of the lawsuit based on state law to go to trial. James Kaster, Huebner's attorney, said the judge will decide whether that trial would be held in state or federal court.

Huebner, who was 49 years old at the time, resigned from Valley News Live two months after being moved out of the prime 10 p.m. slot in favor of Stephanie Goetz, who was then in her mid-20s. Huebner was instead offered a slot anchoring earlier newscasts.

In a March hearing, Huebner’s attorney, James Kaster, said the station’s decision to shift Huebner to a different time slot and to cut her pay by about 39 percent was an undeserved demotion designed to make her quit. Hoak contended the station had the right to make changes to the Valley News programming to stay competitive.

Erickson said Huebner’s claims of age discrimination under state law may have merit based on statements made by Hoak management that were introduced as evidence.

In an email sent to Valley News Live staff, Rich Adams, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Hoak Media referred to Huebner as the “melanoma in the Fargo newsroom.” Erickson wrote that “Adams’ inflammatory statements raise considerable questions about the motivations behind the decision to replace Huebner.”

Huebner’s lawsuit seeks at least $75,000 in damages.

Huebner said late Friday she could not comment on the case.

Jim Wareham, general manager of Valley News Live, also had no comment.

Huebner is now an employee of Forum Communications Co., which also owns The Forum and WDAY-TV, a KVLY competitor.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530