Former TV journalist claims age discrimination

Bosses at ITV have denied that a journalist lost her job because of age discrimination.

Jo Thewlis

BOSSES at ITV have denied that a journalist lost her job because of age discrimination.

Dianne Stradling, 53, had been a familiar face on news bulletins broadcast by ITV Anglia until February last year when she was made redundant.

Yesterday , Mrs Stradling, who lives near Braintree, launched a legal bid to prove that she was the victim of age discrimination and unfair dismissal. She also claims she is still owed her notice pay.

An employment tribunal at Bury St Edmunds heard how Mrs Stradling, who worked part-time as a reporter, had along with all other staff in the TV station's news department been told that her job no longer existed and she must apply for one of a limited number of new posts.

That led to the loss of around 30 staff as part of cash-strapped ITV's attempts to turn itself around within five years by axing �40 million from its local news budget.

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Mrs Stradling, who was one of the station's 'family of faces', said she applied for two different jobs - one as a correspondent and one as a reporter - but failed to get either.

She claimed that ITV had pretended that her old job was redundant and it was then instead handed to a younger person with a different job title.

Head of ITV's Human Resources, Richard Thurston, told the tribunal that he believed the cutbacks, which heralded a reorganisation of news programmes across the ITV network, had been handled as fairly and openly as possible.

Planning for the cuts had begun before the broadcasting regulator Ofcom ruled that ITV could go ahead with widespread changes to news output but even if that permission had been withheld the same number of jobs would have had to go for commercial reasons, said Mr Thurston.

David Jennings, who at the time had been Head of News at ITV Anglia, said the process to select candidates for the new, smaller number of jobs available and which he had helped to draft, had been “exhaustive and completely transparent”.

It had been made clear from the outset that everyone within ITV Anglia's news department would be affected and that everyone would have to apply for a new job, said Mr Jennings. He had informed

Mrs Stradling of her failure to get a new post by phone to avoid her hearing unofficially.

Mr Jennings said that Mrs Stradling had come ninth out of the 18 candidates for the jobs within her field that were on offer while there had been only seven posts to fill.

Strongly denying claims of age discrimination, Mr Jennings said that three of the successful candidates had been aged over forty and one over fifty.

Mrs Stradling also alleged Mr Jennings had once suggested she cut her hair as it might be 'distracting' to viewers.

“You were trying to mould me into the kind of person that you like,” she said. “If you look at these four lovely women in their 20s, there is a type.”

Mr Jennings strongly denied the suggestion.

The decision on scores achieved by the candidates had been made by a four strong panel at ITV Anglia including Mr Jennings.

Mr Jennings said that it was untrue to suggest that a younger member of staff had been appointed to work from the Ipswich office, where Mrs Stradling had sometimes worked, as locations for individuals had not been decided until all the appointments had been made.

Responding to a claim by Mrs Stradling that she was still owed notice pay, Mr Thurston said that it had already been included in an enhanced redundancy package.

Neil Thompson, the former regional director of Anglia TV, who heard Mrs Stradling's appeal hearing in September 2008, said he had been 'extremely surprised' by her allegations.

Speaking at the tribunal, he said: “If there were fewer older women on screen, the outcome was as a result of a transparent and robust selection process.”

The tribunal continues.

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