By Lena Williams
Double Olympic gold medalist Donna DeVarona, a pioneer in women's sports, is suing ABC Sports, where she worked for 26 years as a broadcaster and producer. She charges the network unlawfully terminated her employment because of age and sex.
(Reportedly, DeVarona is being considered as a color commentator in swimming for the 2000 Olympics by NBC Sports.)
DeVarona, a former president of the Women's Sports Foundation and chairwoman of the 1999 Women's World Cup organizing committee, filed suit in Federal District Court in New York last Friday against ABC Sports and ABC Broadcasting.
In the suit, DeVarona said she was warned by executives at the network that her "advancing age" was a "detriment" because ABC Sports wanted to reach younger demographics and capture the "young 18-39 male market." She also said she was given fewer and inferior-quality assignments, was paid less than male colleagues and was subjected to more stringent requirements than men in comparable positions, such as being forced to resign from her association with certain organizations, including the US Olympic Committee Board of Directors.
DeVarona, who was receiving $150,000 a year at the time of her termination, is seeking $50 million in compensatory damages.
A statement released by ABC Sports yesterday said that DeVarona's role at the network had "diminished greatly" over the years because of the change in events covered by ABC Sports, including the loss of the Olympics. ABC Sports has not had broadcast rights to the Games since 1968.
"Ms. DeVarona and her representatives were advised of this fact over the years and she was encouraged to look elsewhere," the statement said. "We believe Ms. DeVarona was treated fairly and that this suit has no merit."
On Feb. 25, 1999, DeVarona filed a discrimination charge against ABC with the Equal Employtment Opportunity Commission. Last January she was issue a "right to sue" letter from the agency.