PHILADELPHIA — For many Delaware Valley radio listeners, Carol MacKenzie’s voice is the first they hear on weekday mornings.
That’s a sentence that can be found verbatim on the website for Audacy Inc.’s flagship all-News radio station in its home market, the one-time Westinghouse (and, later, CBS Radio) station long known as KYW Newsradio.
Today, however, Carol MacKenzie‘s fate as a morning anchor at the AM/FM combo, a role she’s had for 20 years, could be in doubt. Why? She’s filed a gender discrimination suit against the company, adding to its many corporate-level challenges as it steers itself into a fiscally fueled reorganization effort.
MacKenzie, a Lancaster native, has sued Audacy on the grounds that it engaged in both age and gender discrimination.
News of MacKenzie’s legal fight against KYW’s owner spread quickly across local media, with Philadelphia magazine among the outlets covering the high-profile radio journalist’s suit, in which she claims, “For 20 years, KYW has systematically paid MacKenzie less than her male and/or younger co-workers.”
As such, MacKenzie, who is 58 years of age, seeks back pay, liquidated damages, interest, costs, negative tax consequence damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and attorneys’ fees from KYW.
The host is represented by Scott Pollins of Pollins Law in Wayne, Pa., and sees a jury trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. MacKenzie’s lawsuit is an action under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, explaining the federal lawsuit against Audacy.
In the claim filed by Pollins on Tuesday, it is stated that MacKenzie “in the first several years” of her employment, was paid “about $20,000-$30,000 per year less than her similarly situated male co-workers.”
In about 2010, MacKenzie asked for a raise; she believed she was being paid less due to be being a female. Her boss at the time, Steve Butler, told her he could not pay her more than her male co-worker, Ed Abrams. Butler, MacKenzie claims, implied that KYW could not have a woman making more than a man.
Audacy did not own KYW at the time.
The lawsuit then notes that by 2011, at least two male reporters, John McDevitt and Ian Bush, the latter of who “was about 15 years younger than MacKenzie,” were making about $10,000 per year more than her. Furthermore, employment agreements were given to the men at the time but not to MacKenzie.
Again, Audacy did not own KYW in 2011, nor did it own the station in fall 2014, when Brandon Brooks was promoted to be a morning anchor “at a significantly higher yearly salary than MacKenzie was making as a morning anchor,” MacKenzie claims. In about 2018, MacKenzie found out that Brooks was making about $30,000 per year
more than her.
This claim directly involves Audacy, then-known as Entercom, which completed its tax-free Reverse Morris Trust-fueled merger with CBS Radio in November 2017.
The same can be said with what transpired starting in early 2019, as MacKenzie sees it. At that time, MacKenzie complained to KYW management about the gender-based salary inequity. KYW responded by lowering Mr. Brooks’ salary and modestly increasing her
salary, she claims in the lawsuit. Then came COVID-19, and Audacy asked KYW’s top paid anchors and reporters to take a significant voluntary pay cut due to the impact on KYW of the pandemic. MacKenzie agreed to the voluntary pay cut, which was a reduction of $20,000 per year.
With a hiring freeze in effect and reduced salaries in place, Audacy then, according to MacKenzie, hired Denise Nakano, who is about 15 years younger than MacKenzie. In about November 2020, Nakano was promoted to midday anchor, making about $20,000 per year more than MacKenzie.
There’s more: In about November 2020, Jay Scott Smith was a male full-time anchor making at least about $20,000 per year more than MacKenzie. “Upon information and belief, KYW continued to pay Mr. Scott Smith more than MacKenzie through March 2023 when KYW terminated him,” the lawsuit states.
Then came a SAG-AFRTRA investigation and audit of KYW’s compensation practices, in late 2021 and early 2022. MacKenzie believes the union’s investigation confirmed the systemic gender-based pay violations that KYW had engaged in for MacKenzie’s entire employment tenure. While this was transpiring, KYW in late 2021 offered MacKenzie a contract renewal that locked in a salary of $137,000 for 2022, $140,000 for 2023 and $143,000 for 2024.
MacKenzie refused the offer, on the grounds that the offer was “far less” than what her male co-workers, including Mr. Scott Smith, and her younger female colleague, Ms. Nakano.
“Several months later” and in early 2022, KYW increased their offers to $150,000/year
for 2022, $152,500/year for 2023, and $155,000/year for 2024. MacKenzie subsequently signed a document indicating her agreement to those salaries.
Yet, even though she didn’t decline that offer, MacKenzie contends Audacy and KYW engaged in discriminatory salary determination, resulting in “significant harms and losses” for the woman who has enjoyed a long career as a reporter and anchor in both radio and television.
MacKenzie began her journalism career as a reporter at WLAN Radio in Lancaster. She’s also anchored and reported for WETM-TV in Elmira, N.Y.; WBRE-TV in Scranton-Wilkes Barre; WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H.; and at New England Cable News in Boston. Her documentary, “Honduras: Mission of Hope” — about a local group of volunteers who set up free medical and dental clinics — won awards from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, the RTNDA, and Women in Communication.
“Although she has enjoyed getting to know the people in different towns and cities, Carol is glad to be back home in Pennsylvania,” her KYW biography reads.
Today, however, she’s not particularly glad to be at the station she has called home for two decades. And, with a jury’s approval, she wants Audacy to report to a court-appointed external monitor, quarterly for 36 months, on KYW’s compensation rates for anchors and reporters.
A summons was issued to Audacy on Wednesday; the company had not offered comment on the matter, while COO Susan Larkin was attending the Forecast conference in New York.