Apr 4, 2024 - News

WLRN victory claim in fired Sundial host's discrimination case "absurd," expert says

Carlos Frías posing with his James Beard Award.

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

The spat between WLRN and former host Carlos Frías is getting uglier after the NPR station tried to claim a legal victory against the Cuban American journalist's allegations of discrimination.

Why it matters: Frías, who filed a federal lawsuit this week, alleges that he was discriminated against when WLRN canceled his show "Sundial" and let him and two Latina producers go.

  • The lawsuit alleges that prior to canceling the arts and culture show in February, a WLRN editor said the show was "sounding very Latino" and created a spreadsheet tracking Hispanic guests.

WLRN says the allegations are "baseless" and that it has one of the most diverse newsrooms in the country.

  • The station says it canceled "Sundial" and eliminated the positions of Frías and his coworkers to focus resources on its investigative journalism and digital operations.

Catch up quick: Frías first made the allegations in a February complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a mandatory step before filing a discrimination lawsuit.

  • In March, the EEOC granted a request from Frías that he be allowed to sue after the agency determined it would be unable to complete its investigation in six months.
  • As part of its notice, the EEOC said it had dismissed the charge.

Friction point: WLRN general manager John LaBonia released a statement Wednesday claiming that the EEOC "sided with WLRN in dismissing the complaint."

  • "The quick decision by the EEOC to end its investigation is a testament to the failure of Mr. Frias to present any credible evidence of discrimination."

Reality check: Two labor law experts, who are not involved in the case, reviewed the EEOC notice for Axios and said the agency did not rule on the merits of his allegations.

  • "For WLRN to claim this as a victory is just absurd," Fort Lauderdale labor attorney Jonathan Pollard says.
  • University of Florida law professor Rachel Arnow-Richman, chair in labor and employment law, tells Axios a dismissal is a necessary step to filing a federal lawsuit.

Context: Pollard says labor attorneys routinely request a "Right to Sue" notice to skip the "administrative process" and go straight to court.

  • Filing a lawsuit could lead to a bigger financial reward compared to going through the EEOC, he says.
  • "If you want real money, you just get your Right to Sue, file a lawsuit and commit to going the distance in litigation," he says.

What they're saying: William Amlong, an attorney for Frías, tells Axios that the EEOC dismissed the complaint at his request, so he didn't have to wait six months to file a lawsuit.

  • "Not only are they being racist, but they're being liars," Amlong says.

The other side: WLRN said it forbids discrimination or harassment and that 63% of its newsroom employees are people of color, including vice president for news Sergio Bustos, who is originally from Chile.

  • "I'm proud to lead our award-winning radio programming and digital news coverage in one of the nation's most diverse audiences," Bustos said.
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