Feb 26, 2024 - News

Former news anchor Sonya Heitshusen's trial against Nexstar starts

A photo of Sonya Heitshusen.

Former WHO-13 news anchor Sonya Heitshusen now works as a spokesperson for Iowa Auditor Rob Sand. Photo: Courtesy of Heitshusen

Former news anchor Sonya Heitshusen's wrongful termination lawsuit against WHO-13 is expected to start this week and include Erin Kiernan — a current anchor at the station — as a witness for her, court documents show.

Why it matters: The trial will scrutinize the employment decisions of Nexstar Media Group, the largest television station owner in the U.S. and parent company of WHO.

Catch up fast: Heitshusen worked for the station for 17 years and says in court documents that she was subjected to age, gender and pay discrimination at various times during her employment.

  • Nexstar denies the allegations, contending her termination was based on a reduction of its workforce.

Meanwhile, Heitshusen — who was 53 when she was fired in 2020 — alleges the decision is consistent with patterns of discrimination toward older women occurring at Nexstar.

State of play: Heitshusen says in court documents she was the oldest woman anchor on air at the station, received more awards than her male counterparts, was consistently asked to mentor younger reporters and never received a negative performance review.

  • She alleges that she and other women employees at the station dealt with bias-driven microaggressions on a regular basis regarding things like appearances.

The intrigue: The station currently has 11 anchors — including Lisa Carponelli, 51, who was hired in October and Courtney Greene, 54, who returned to the station in September.

The other side: Nexstar wrote in a November 2021 response to the lawsuit that many of Heitshusen's allegations are vague and ambiguous.

  • The company prevailed in a 2016 age discrimination lawsuit filed by a former California news anchor.

Zoom in: Kiernan, 50, started anchoring WHO-13 newscasts in 2006, working closely with Heitshusen.

  • She has spoken publicly about having an unplanned pregnancy when she was a teenager and made national headlines after she urged women to push back against body shaming in 2016.

What's next: The trial is expected to start today and run at least a week.

  • Kiernan, Nexstar spokesperson Gary Weitman and attorneys representing Heitshusen declined our requests for comment.

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