Bob French, chief meteorologist for KBTX in Bryan and College Station, has filed a federal lawsuit against the television station claiming breach of contract, age and disability discrimination, harassment and retaliation as well as violations against the Federal Medical Leave Act.
The 59-year-old says in his complaint that he was forced to work extended hours during the 2012 holidays, while younger KBTX staff members were allowed time off. According to French's Houston attorney, Charles Peckham, the stressful work and hours caused French to seek medical treatment in Houston in mid-January under the Family and Medical Leave Act. French accuses KBTX general manager Mike Wright of reprimanding him after he returned from his medical leave in April.
The federal lawsuit filed in Houston alleges that CBS affiliate KBTX targeted French in early 2013 because of his age and because he was placed in inpatient hospital care due to exhaustion and depression.
French alleges that employees under the age of 40 were allowed time-off while French was not. While away on FMLA leave that would protect his job until his return, the lawsuit alleges that French was reprimanded for the effects of his exhaustion and depression and KBTX openly sought to replace him.
In what KBTX General Manager Mike Wright referred to as a “coincidence,” KBTX advertised an open meteorologist position at the same time Bob French was away from work on protected medical leave, according to the suit.
Bob French’s return to work on air was short lived as within days after his return, French was fired from KBTX in July 2013 and was replaced by Shel Winkley, a weathercaster under 40 years of age and without a disability, according to the suit.
French had previously filed a charge of Age and Disability Discrimination as well as Retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
The charge named KBTX and its parent company, Gray Television Group, Inc. of Atlanta, Ga., as respondents. The EEOC investigation was completed and notification of right to sue was mailed on May 29, 2014 prompting the filing of the federal lawsuit by French.
“For KBTX to have violated Bob’s legally-protected rights is offensive,” Peckham explains. “If KBTX can fire a beloved man such as Bob French for being over the age of 40 or for simply exercising his right to disability leave, no employee in Texas is safe from similar treatment. Bob is standing up to send a message to KBTX that folks over 40 with temporary or permanent disabilities are not second-class citizens.”
A comment released by KBTX states that the "KBTX family was disappointed to learn from other media outlets that our former colleague and friend Bob French" chose to file the charge.
"KBTX and Gray Television respect the privacy of the employment relationship, and accordingly, will not litigate matters related to Mr. French's employment in the press. KBTX, however, will defend itself vigorously against Mr. French's allegations and is confident that upon reviewing the record, the EEOC will conclude that Mr. French's allegations are utterly without merit."
French has been employed at the station for 23 years and had a written contract that governed his activities at the station. According to the contract, French could not be terminated without cause.
French claims that none of the reasons given for his termination from employment were “for cause,” but instead were for illegal reasons related to his age, disability and in retaliation for having taken FMLA leave.
Prior to working in Bryan/College Station, French was a meteorologist at CBS affiliate KFDM in Beaumont from 1981 to 1990.