A former human resources manager and business administrator for the state’s ABC-TV affiliate has filed a federal sex and gender discrimination lawsuit accusing WTNH’s vice president and general manager of making inappropriate comments and retaliating against her because of her age and gender.
In her lawsuit, e-filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, North Guilford resident Rachel Mastriano accused Rich Graziano of making derogatory comments toward women and treating the station’s male and female staff differently.
Mastriano once enjoyed a positive working relationship with colleagues at the station, where she began working in 2010 as executive assistant to then-vice president and general manager Mark Higgins, according to the lawsuit. She was once named employee of the year, and promoted to human resources manager/business administrator in May 2015. She reported to Graziano, who was hired in January 2017.
The nine-page complaint says Graziano was inappropriate with staff from the start.
“From the onset of Mr. Graziano’s employment, plaintiff noted sexist and inappropriate comments that he made regarding young female employees,” the lawsuit states. “On one occasion, he suggested that they should put one of our young female anchors on Facebook in a bikini. He made other sexist comments regarding young females including descriptions of their body parts.”
The lawsuit says Graziano started firing several women, who were 40 years or older, soon after taking the helm at WTNH, or Channel 8. Those women included a program manager who was 54 years old; the director of community affairs who was around 40 years old; and a style-show producer who was about 52 years old.
The lawsuit also says Graziano was rude and made demeaning remarks to the plaintiff, but was respectful to her male colleagues.
Mastriano said she was fired in May 2017, one week after being suspended for asking for Red Sox tickets from “The Tim McCarver Show.” That, the lawsuit says, was a common practice at the station for years.
“She did not believe that she was doing anything wrong based on defendant’s (television station) accepted practice at plaintiff’s workplace,” the lawsuit continues.
On May 11, 2017, the lawsuit says Graziano called Mastriano into his office, along with the station’s director of sales. Graziano, the complaint says, “made derogatory comments regarding plaintiff’s performance, insulted her, and said he was suspending her for obtaining tickets to the Red Sox game. This was a one-sided conversation and plaintiff was not given an opportunity to respond.”
One week after her suspension, Mastriano said she received a termination letter stating, “We concluded our investigation.”
The lawsuit says Mastriano “had no knowledge of any investigation and was never asked to clarify, contribute or otherwise give her side of the story.”
The lawsuit says Mastriano was told she violated the company’s policies regarding conflicts of interest and gifts/entertainment, but noted employees at the station routinely accepted gifts from sponsors and others.
The lawsuit says Mastriano was “singled out” because of her age and gender and that Graziano “fabricated the excuse that plaintiff violated company policy to effectuate the termination of her employment.”
Graziano did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. In addition, WTNH, the defendant in the case, had not assigned an attorney to the matter as of Tuesday morning.
The lawsuit cites four counts, including sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as gender and age discrimination.
The lawsuit seeks, among other things, punitive damages, liquidated damages, noneconomic compensatory damages and attorney fees.
Mastriano is represented by Heena Kapadia of Trumbull-based Law Office of Heena Kapadia. Kapadia declined to comment on Tuesday.