BANGOR – A former employee of WLBZ-2 television in Bangor has sued the station and its owners for sex discrimination and retaliation, claiming she left her position of 33 years after a new male supervisor subjected her to what the lawsuit terms “relentless gender-based harassment.” The employee claims the man gave her a negative evaluation when she told other station supervisors about the alleged conduct.
Sharon R. Gonyar, 53, seeks compensatory and punitive damages in a civil lawsuit filed in mid-November. The document, filled with descriptions of derogatory remarks reportedly made about female staff at Channel 2 and its sister station, WCSH-6 in Portland, was filed at the Penobscot County Superior Court and then moved Nov. 28 to U.S. District Court in Bangor.
The lawsuit alleges two violations of Title VII, the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act. It names as defendants the Gannett Co. Inc., which bought WLBZ in 1998, and Pacific and Southern Co. Inc., doing business as WLBZ Television.
Gonyar is seeking unspecified monetary damages, but could receive only $300,000 under a federal cap. The plaintiff also is requesting an amount for lost wages, which her attorney declined to specify except to say it was “considerable.”
The case could be ready for trial within a year.
Gonyar lives in Orono and is married to George Gonyar, a former station manager at WABI-5, in Bangor. The station competes with WLBZ-2 and WVII-7 for ratings.
Sharon Gonyar recently began work at WVII-7 as a salesperson, according to her attorney, Warren Silver of Bangor.
According to the lawsuit, Gonyar began working at WLBZ-2, an NBC-affiliated station, in 1967. In 1983, she was promoted to national sales manager, a job she held until she quit nine months ago.
During her time at the station, Gonyar had never received a negative evaluation until she came under the supervision of a new station manager, Dennis Holland, who was hired in 1999, the lawsuit states. Trouble began for Gonyar early in Holland’s tenure, according to the lawsuit.
“This was persistent and severe harassment of a 33-year employee,” said Silver. “Sharon worked at the station in the days before maternity leave and had her babies on her two-week vacation.
“It’s unfortunate that she was treated this way,” the attorney said.
Attorney Joe Hahn of Portland is representing the defendants. He said he is aware of the litigation but that he makes it a policy not to comment on lawsuits “when they’re pending.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Hahn said in a telephone interview.
The case was presented earlier this year to the Maine Human Rights Commission, which took no action on the matter. After six months, the commission issued a right-to-sue letter to Gonyar.
Holland since has left Channel 2 for a television job in Syracuse, N.Y.
Early in Holland’s tenure at the Bangor station, he reportedly “targeted two female employees” other than Gonyar, who soon left their jobs “as a result of Holland’s relentless gender-based harassment and mistreatment,” the lawsuit states.
Holland then tried to fill the vacant sales manager position by “offering it first to male employees rather than to the top-billing salesperson, who was female, or to Ms. Gonyar who had been performing the duties of the local sales manager [in addition to her own responsibilities] for several months,” the lawsuit states.
Holland displayed a “pattern of discrimination against women” that included making “disparaging remarks about the appearances of female station employees during sales meetings.” He also allegedly “suggested that female employees at WLBZ TV’s sister station in Portland, WCSH Television, were incompetent and that he would ‘get rid of them’, if it had been his decision,” the lawsuit states.
Holland “regularly gave male employees preferential accounts and other favorable treatment that unfairly enhanced their ability to succeed in the department,” the lawsuit states.
From the beginning, Holland reportedly excluded Gonyar from “important national and internal meetings,” that she had attended regularly in the past.
Holland was “hostile toward Ms. Gonyar and refused to speak to her for days and weeks at a time. This included refusing to discuss subjects important to Ms. Gonyar’s ability to perform her job,” the lawsuit states.
“Holland never gave the ‘silent treatment’ to male employees,” the lawsuit claims.
Gonyar “attempted to resolve the situation directly with Holland on two occasions and both were unsuccessful,” according to the court document. She then complained about Holland to the station’s general manager and its human resources director.
In response to her complaints, “WLBZ-TV’s management warned Ms. Gonyar about her attitude toward Holland,” the lawsuit states.
The issue culminated in March of this year when Gonyar received a negative performance evaluation. The evaluation contained “unwarranted and untruthful” criticism “leveled at Ms. Gonyar by Holland,” according to the lawsuit. The evaluation meeting lasted for more than two hours and was attended by the station’s general manager.
“In her prior 33 years working at WLBZ-TV, Ms. Gonyar had never received a negative evaluation,” the lawsuit states.
As a result of the “unwarranted negative performance review and the increasingly hostile actions taken toward her by WLBZ-TV management,” Gonyar left her position that same month.
The lawsuit contends WLBZ-2 staff “acted with malice or reckless indifference” to Gonyar’s federally protected rights.
Gonyar “was grievously injured by the defendants’ discriminatory conduct,” the lawsuit claims.