Former KSHB-TV Channel 41 reporter Lisa Benson says her race discrimination and retaliation case against the station where she’d worked for 14 years was a trial in more ways than one.
“In opening statements, they described me as an angry black, violent woman and that was very hurtful, considering those would be the same people who would have sent flowers to the maternity ward when I gave birth,” says Benson, a mother of two boys. “So … I learned a lot going through this process.”
Benson, a general assignment reporter, sued Channel 41 and its parent company, Scripps Media Inc., for allegedly denying her promotion opportunities because she is black and for retaliating against her for asserting her legal rights. The station fired her in mid-2018.
On February 8, a federal jury – four men and four women – found for the station on her race discrimination claims but found for Benson on two retaliation claims. It awarded her a total of $26,000 in compensatory damages and $175,000 in punitive damages.
One aspect of Benson’s case that drew widespread attention was the station’s actions after she posted an article from the Guardian newspaper about “white women’s tears” on her private Facebook page. Two white female reporters took offense at the posting and Benson was suspended for two days without pay.
“When I was suspended back in May, they suspended me for creating a hostile work environment based on race and sex. And that's all they would tell me,” Benson says.
Benson says she decided to sue after realizing she wasn't going to get any help going through the company's human resources department.
“You still think that if you go up the food chain and you tell people what you're going through and you talk to HR, you talk to corporate HR, that at some point you're going to have a voice, people are going to hear what you're saying,” Benson says. “And that just simply never happened. But it was very hurtful.”
The jury was only allowed to hear evidence dating back to 2013. But Benson says she experienced discrimination as soon as she began applying for jobs.
“But I absolutely believe that my race factored into the types of stories I covered where I covered the stories,” Benson says, citing the fact that she was sent to the home of a known Ku Klux Klan member by herself.
“I didn't mind being sent in as a woman of color, but I did mind being sent alone,” she says.
After that incident, Benson drafted safety guidelines which were adopted, she says, “because I was so concerned about not only my safety, but the safety of the other people in the newsroom, who at the time I considered my friends.”
KCUR reached out to channel 41 attorney Scott McIntyre but did not hear back.
This story is based on Lisa Benson's conversation with Steve Kraske on KCUR's Up to Date. Listen to the full conversation here.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.