Former KXAN weathercaster Rhonda Lee has sued station, accuses it of bias.
Austin’s NBC affiliate has been hit with a pair of lawsuits.
One accuses KXAN of racial discrimination; the other alleges the station aired a libelous report.
Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of KXAN, did not respond to a request for comment on the two cases.
Michael Fabac, who spent about five years as news director is, as of this week, no longer with the station, newsroom staffers said.
Former weekend morning weathercaster Rhonda Lee filed the discrimination suit in U.S. District Court in Austin.
Now at KTBS in Shreveport, La., Lee, who is black, said she was fired in August after being "repeatedly subjected to crude and insensitive remarks about her race," according to court documents.
Lee also said in the suit that she was left out of advertisements and station events, such as KXAN’s fall premiere party. When she asked why, she was told "she was not marketable to the audience the company was trying to reach, which was Caucasian males," the lawsuit said.
The weathercaster, who was employed by KXAN for slightly more than a year, said she was denied "employment opportunities" as well. When Lee voiced her concerns, they were "dismissed without serious consideration," the filing said.
Her termination "constituted retaliation for Plaintiff’s failure to keep quiet about the discrimination against her by KXAN-TV personnel," according to the suit.
Court records indicate Lee is seeking "appropriate back pay and reimbursement for lost pension, insurance, and all other benefits," as well as punitive damages, fees for her attorneys and expert witnesses, and court costs.
The unrelated libel suit was filed in state District Court in Travis County by Shelia White, who produced the Austin Women’s Expo through her company Exposition & Festivals Inc.
The American-Statesman was unable to reach White.
In court documents, White said a "damaging and hurtful" story that aired on KXAN was defamatory and libelous, wrongly accusing her of "criminal misconduct" and causing her and her business "embarrassment and ostracization within the community."
The station’s report was viewable, on air and online, by potentially "hundreds of thousands of people," White said in the lawsuit.
The story was apparently prompted by a May 12, 2011, news release from the Austin office of the Better Business Bureau headlined, "Businesses Risk Losing Thousands in Possible Tradeshow Scam."
A somewhat similar release was issued by the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama, in conjunction with the Huntsville, Ala., police department, on June 3, 2011.
The Austin Better Business Bureau is listed as a co-defendant in the case. A spokeswoman said the bureau had not yet been served with the suit.
The release encouraged area businesses to "ignore advertisements and solicitations" from Exposition & Festivals Inc.
It said, in part, "Businesses complain that they paid the company hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of dollars up front for booth reservations only to learn later the tradeshow was canceled or delayed for months."
"It appears as though the tradeshows were never intended to be held," the Better Business Bureau said, "leaving businesses that paid to participate without any return on their investments."
White said that’s untrue. She said in the suit that she paid more than $5,000 to host a show at the City of Austin’s Palmer Events Center and that she "had no businesses who paid to participate without any return on their investments for a tradeshow in Austin."
The release indicates a Palmer Events Center representative said the venue "refused to ever host the show due to complaints from local vendors and previous problems scheduling events for this company."
Palmer Events Center never refused to host the expo, the suit said. Officials there would not identify the employee who reportedly spoke to the Better Business Bureau, White said in the suit, which also lists the city as a co-defendant.
"The City of Austin is aware of the lawsuit but has not yet been served," the city said in a statement. "We are working to determine the validity of the allegations brought forth within the suit and will take action regarding the matter through the appropriate legal channels should the issue move further."
White is seeking compensation for actual damages, according to the court filing, as well as punitive damages and court costs.