Reporter suing KSHB for discrimination says contract not renewed, with no explanation

A sports reporter and anchor who had sued KSHB (Channel 41) for race discrimination said his employment contract was not renewed, and he was released without warning or explanation.

He is the second African American KSHB reporter who sued the station in federal court for race discrimination and then lost their job.

Demetrice “Dee” Jackson, an Emmy Award winner who had worked at NBC’s Kansas City affiliate since 2013, said it is standard practice for station managers to alert reporters at least 60 days in advance if their contract will not be renewed.

“Several anchors were given that 60-day notice and were able to come in, make arrangements for themselves and their families and move on to the better jobs and positions,” he said Wednesday. “I wasn’t given that opportunity.”

On Sept. 4, Jackson said he was out covering a Kansas City Chiefs practice when he received a phone call and instructed to immediately return to the station. Once there, Jackson was told that his contract would not be renewed and that it was his last day.

“I would say that I was numb,” he said. “It’s sad, but if I wasn’t doing my job, doing great work or making strides in the community, that would be different.”

Jackson, a Kansas City native, said that during his tenure at the station as sports reporter and weekend sports anchor, he donated money to local schools, helped them acquire broadcast equipment and purchased student uniforms.

Kari Wethington, a spokeswoman for the E.W. Scripps Co., KSHB’s parent company, said the company does not comment on personnel matters.

Jackson filed a race discrimination lawsuit in U.S. District Court in May 2018, saying he was twice passed over for sports director after management led him to believe he would get that job.

In court filings, Scripps has denied Jackson was discriminated against based on his race, saying the position of sports director was never offered nor promised to Jackson at any time.

Lisa Benson Cooper, who goes by Lisa Benson, sued KSHB, Channel 41, in Jackson County Circuit Court.

In 2016, Lisa Benson Cooper sued KSHB and then was terminated last year after working as a general assignment reporter at the station for 14 years.

Cooper lost her race discrimination claim, but won a retaliation claim.

In a message posted on her Facebook page this week, Cooper said, “I wish I could say I was surprised that @Dee Jackson was let go, but I’m not!”

Jackson, who was nominated for an Emmy this year, said it was unfair how he was released. Among other things, Jackson said he wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to his co-workers or prepare a resume tape that he could present to a future employer.

“If I were a teacher, I could go to another school or school district. If I was a doctor I could go to another hospital, and if I were a firefighter, I could find another fire station,” he said.

“But there are only four television stations in town, let alone sports jobs. So it is not as easy as just picking up and saying I’m out because I’m mad, I’m taking my ball and I’m going home.”

In his federal lawsuit, Jackson alleges Carrie Hofmann, who was the KSHB news director at the time, recruited Jackson to come to Kansas City in 2013, when he was sports director of a television station in Montgomery, Alabama.

At the time, the lawsuit said, the Kansas City station’s sports director, Jack Harry, was considering retirement and “Hofmann wanted to ensure everything was in place for when he did.”

But Jackson declined an offer of employment, saying he was happy with his job of 12 years, but asked to be considered when KSHB’s sports director position became available.

Jackson received a second job offer from KSHB, which led him to believe he would become sports director. Hofmann told him that reporter Frank Boal, the next in line, was not interested in the job, Jackson alleged in his lawsuit.

Jackson took that offer and joined the KSHB team in September 2013.

But in 2015, Boal was appointed sports director.

“Hofmann explained she chose Boal to avoid ‘PR concerns about passing over the old white guy,’” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said Boal failed to meet the job criteria of being able to edit and produce broadcast-ready material on his own, skills that Jackson did possess.

Yet, Jackson remained at the station with the understanding that he was next in line to be promoted to sports director.

“It became a running joke between us,” Jackson said Wednesday.

When Boal told Hofmann in April 2017 he was retiring, Jackson was told he would have to apply for the position as if he were an external candidate and be interviewed by a panel of KSHB employees.

The station eventually hired Joseph ‘Mick’ Shaffer, a white male who had worked elsewhere, the lawsuit said.

“I am not fighting the outcome, I am fighting the process,” Jackson said Wednesday. “The process I thought was undue injustice, unfair. I am a firm believer in you have got to stand up for something.”

The lawsuit is set to go to trial on Feb. 10.

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Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.