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KVLY denies Huebner claims of bias

Robin Huebner

FARGO - Attorneys for Valley News Live deny allegations that station managers discriminated against a former longtime anchor, and they're standing by the 26-year-old they promoted to replace her.

Last month, Robin Huebner, 50, sued Hoak Media - the parent company of Fargo TV stations KXJB and KVLY - claiming station managers demoted her illegally based on her age and gender.

In a response filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court to Huebner's lawsuit, Hoak Media's attorneys assert that Huebner's own decisions led her down the path to her resignation.

Huebner resigned from Valley News Live on Oct. 17, about two months after she was removed as a co-anchor on the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts and replaced by Stephanie Goetz.

In the response, the station's attorney, Gina Janeiro of Minneapolis-based Jackson Lewis LLP, defends Goetz's performance and praises her work, while simultaneously diminishing Huebner's.

For instance, Janeiro shoots down Huebner's claims that she helped boost the station's ratings during the 21 years she reported news and anchored newscasts there.

"(Huebner), individually, is no more responsible for ratings in any demographic than the other three anchors of newscasts she participated in," Janeiro wrote.

Later in the document, Janeiro acknowledges a June 2011 meeting in which station manager Jim Wareham said "Goetz had improved the demographic ratings of the 5 p.m. newscast, including doubling male viewers in the 25-54 age demographic."

In her complaint, Huebner also attempted to establish a record of good performance, such as being recognized as "Best TV anchor" in the Red River Valley by Forum readers in both 2008 and 2011.

To contrast that, Janeiro points out: "Goetz was voted second with less than nine months of exposure as an anchor in the area."

Huebner's lawsuit alleged that the station heard from "numerous viewers" who complained about "Goetz's inexperience and unprofessional attire."

But Janeiro noted in the court response that station managers "received more positive viewer responses to Ms. Goetz's on-air performance than negative viewer responses."

Huebner alleges managers at KXJB/KVLY bumped her from the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts in August in order to favor Goetz.

But, Janeiro - speaking for the station managers - contends "all employment actions ... were based on legitimate, non discriminatory reasons."

"(The damages Huebner claims), if any, were caused or contributed to by (her) own conduct or the conduct of third parties over whom (Hoak Media) has no control," Janeiro wrote.

After the anchor spots were reassigned over the summer, Hoak Media claims Huebner voluntarily chose to take a pay cut, based on the new hours she would work.

"She rejected a compensation offer that maintained her current rate of pay," Janeiro wrote.

Huebner is seeking at least $75,000 in damages, as well as punitive damages, for the station's alleged discrimination.

Janeiro asked the court to dismiss Huebner's complaint and award reasonable costs, attorneys' fees and other relief.

Huebner's attorney, Jim Kaster, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541