Feb 7, 2024 - News

Scoop: Fired "Sundial" host says WLRN discriminated against him

Miami journalist Carlos Frias posing with his James Beard Award

Carlos Frías posing with his James Beard Award. Photo: Nikki Allen/Creative Shot

Award-winning Miami journalist Carlos Frías says his former employer, WLRN, discriminated against him by canceling his local talk show and firing its team of Latino journalists.

What's happening: The Cuban American journalist and former "Sundial" host filed a federal discrimination complaint Tuesday asserting that he and his staff experienced discrimination at the radio station, including being told by an editor that the show was "sounding very Latino."

  • Less than two weeks after Frías filed a complaint with human resources, WLRN fired him and the show's two Latina producers, he says in a charge of discrimination submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

What they're saying: "The way this was done was nothing short of punitive," Frías' attorney William Amlong tells Axios.

  • Amlong and co-counsel Karen Coolman Amlong said they plan to sue for wrongful termination, and that the complaint is a precursor to a lawsuit.

The other side: WLRN CEO John LaBonia did not respond to a request for comment, but in an earlier statement announcing the cancellation, he said the "Sundial" team made a "positive impact on the South Florida community."

Catch up fast: WLRN, the Miami-based NPR member station, canceled the arts and culture show Friday and replaced it with an extra hour of the nationally syndicated "Here & Now."

  • "Sundial" lead producer Leslie Ovalle Atkinson and associate producer Elisa Baena were terminated along with Frías.
  • Fans of the show were shocked at the decision, which WLRN explained as a way to focus resources on news reporting.

The latest: In his EEOC complaint, Frías points to incidents at WLRN that he said preceded his ouster:

In August 2023, he says an editor told Baena that the show was "sounding very Latino" and created a spreadsheet tracking how many guests on the show were of Latino or Hispanic ethnicity.

  • When Frías asked a higher-ranking supervisor for clarification, he says he was told that WLRN had to consider people's "cultural comfort zones."
  • Frías said he interpreted that to mean "white people were being made uncomfortable by how diverse our show was (as is our Miami home.)"

In December, Frías says he was scolded for publishing a listener email that he considered "racist" on Facebook. (The listener complained about the show's "Latinovision" and Frías' "macho latin sensibility.")

  • Frías' Facebook post said the email showed the "subtle and often overt racism in South Florida's NPR audience."
  • In January, vice president of news Sergio Bustos reprimanded Frias for "airing our dirty laundry," according to the complaint. (Bustos didn't reply to a request for comment.)

On Jan. 19, Frías emailed his HR representative about how he believed the reprimand was connected to concerns about "a culture of discrimination" at WLRN against Spanish speakers, Latinos and Hispanics.

  • "She promised to get back to me after she digested what I had told her," Frías wrote. "A week later my staff and I all were fired."
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