Wednesday, December 20, 2006

$8.3 million in a sex-discrimination case

If you are of a protected group you can sue if your rights are violated and possibly have a victory, but what about the rest of us?




Janet Peckinpaugh in a file photo from the 1970s.

Dec. 20, 2006

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant

CONNECTICUT NEWS
Another Anchor Going Away
December 20, 2006
By MARYELLEN FILLO, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

She was often nicknamed the "Barbie" or "the blond bombshell" of the news business, monikers that focused on her looks instead of her journalistic acumen.

But newscaster Janet Peckinpaugh didn't let her appearance and the fact that she was a woman in a male-dominated profession get in her way. Instead, she recalls, she used those assets - a combination of looks, gender and personality - to get the news, and the result was slam-dunk stories that made her one of the state's best-known anchorwomen.

On Friday, Peckinpaugh will leave her desk at WVIT, Channel 30, two months before her current contract expires, to begin a new career, one that she's still figuring out.

"The sky is the limit, but I think I want to own my own business," said the single mother who worked on all three of the state's major television stations at one time or another during her 29-year television career. "I had limits because of my son, but he will be going to college next year," she said. "Now there won't be any reason not to do something different. I need a change."

Peckinpaugh joined WTNH, Channel 8, in 1984 and moved to WFSB, Channel 3, in 1987. She joined WVIT in 1995.

On Tuesday, she recalled a career that included being the first on the scene at the 1999 lottery shooting in Newington, an interview with former President Clinton, covering the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush, the Michael Skakel trial, and several investigative stories. The television anchorwoman became the story herself when in 1999 she was awarded $8.3 million in a sex-discrimination case against Post-Newsweek Stations, her former employer and the former owner of WFSB. (The award was later reduced to $3.7 million. )

Peckinpaugh said she began planning her own retirement in early November, the day after co-worker and news anchor Joanne Nesti, who also left the station this month, began planning hers.

"I'd been thinking about it," said Peckinpaugh. "It was her announcement that prompted me to go, too." The next day, she put her West Hartford home on the market.

Looking back, Peckinpaugh is candid about her eye-catching looks and their effect on her career.

"Especially when I was younger, people wouldn't take me seriously," she said. She recalls that when she began her news career in the Virginia legislature, Tom Brokaw warned her that she'd have to overcome looks in order to hold her own in the press corps.

"So I'd stand back, wait for the guys to ask all their questions and then when they left it would be me and whomever they interviewed standing there," she said Tuesday. "And that was my chance to get the slam-dunk story. I prided myself on not being just a pretty face," she said. "I wanted the story first and I wanted it right."

There have been rumors that the 56-year-old, who during her career in Connecticut was one of its highest rated and highest paid newscasters in the Hartford area, was being pushed out of her 5 and 5:30 p.m. news slots, but Tuesday she and station management both insisted nothing could be further from the truth.

"It's just something she wanted to do," said station president and general manager David Doebler. "She is an excellent journalist and great TV personality. We really want to support her in her efforts."

Peckinpaugh said she has honed her news ability over the years by being approachable, patient and sincere.

"I love the business," she said as she prepared for her newscasts on Tuesday. "I never cared where I was, as long as I was doing the news," she said. "The thing I miss most right now is that I don't get to cover the breaking news."

Asked about the darkest period of her career, she takes but a split second to reflect on her successful lawsuit against WFSB. Asked about the best, she says she can't list them all.

Peckinpaugh isn't sure yet what the next challenge will be.

"I am retiring from the television news business," she said. "But there are so many ideas I have about what's next. I'm not sure yet."

Contact MaryEllen Fillo at mfillo@courant.com.



Al Terzi is the alleged sexual harasser.

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