WEST PALM BEACH — Half a dozen former CBS12 reporters are being harassed by the station’s owners because they quit their crappy newsroom earlier than scheduled, Gossip Extra has learned.
And while CBS 12 reserves the right to fire its staff at will, employees firing the station for its toxic environment and walking out are dragged into courtrooms throughout the country, sometimes years after they quit.
Imagine this: You sign a three-year contract before finding out that the station where you work isn’t what you thought.
So, you decide to do what any human being should do, and you quit.
Fine and dandy, except that if you worked at CBS12, you are now on the hook for thousands of dollars in alleged “damages.”
For the past year CBS 12, owned by the Maryland-based Donald Trump-loving Sinclair Broadcast Group, started suing former on-air talent it once grossly underpaid.
Of course, you won’t hear the station’s stars Suzanne Boyd and Liz Quirantes talk about it.
But Gossip Extra got one of the unfortunates, former street reporter Jonathan Beaton, to talk at length about his after-Sinclair experience.
“Working there is like living in North Korea,” Beaton says, “at least, that’s the way I imagine North Korea is. CBS12 doesn’t care about its people and thrives on their fears. It’s a place where incompetence masquerades as intellect, where a little dictator is barking orders.
“And once you’re in, you can’t get out unless you pay a ransom. It’s unconscionable.”
Beaton was 22 and fresh out of college in 2014 when he signed a three-year contract as a street reporter. A little more than a year later, he decided CBS 12 and its $44,000-a-year salary were not for him. He resigned, moved to Orlando and opened his own public relations business.
Before he left, he says human resources hacks told him he’d owe the company $25,000, 40 percent of the salary for the months left on his contract.
He didn’t think they were serious.
Two years later, in the summer of 2017, Beaton received a claims letter from Sinclair saying he had to pay $5,700 or he’d be sued.
Never mind that Sinclair was now the largest local TV station owner in the United States with 193 stations and assets of $6 billion.
Beaton ignored the letter but by October, Sinclair filed suit.
“I don’t know how they went from $25,000 to $5,700,” says Beaton. “It seems they pull numbers out of their asses. During mediation, they offered another discount and asked for $1,700. The catch was that I would have to sign a confidentiality agreement. I told them to go fuck themselves.
“They had to gall to send some sleaze bag lawyer to my hometown to try to make an example out of me. Now, we’re going to trial. I want my day in court.”
Beaton says there are possibly six other former CBS12 employees getting sued wherever they moved to, and dozens of former reporters from other Sinclair stations. He declined to name any.
We, however, found one in the Palm Beach County court system, former CBS 12 personality Lauren Hills.
According to the lawsuit against her, the flamed-haired newshound quit the station in 2016 and went into public relations as well.
She was sued in November, and Sinclair wants her to pay $17,050 for her escape.
Hills was only served with the paperwork in February, and said this afternoon: “It’s sad and frustrating, and I’d just like to get back to life as normal. It’s also looking to be expensive, in many ways.”
Beaton, meanwhile, acknowledges he signed a contract that deemed the payment to Sinclair as “liquidated damages,” in other words, reimbursements for the money allegedly spent training and promoting the reporter.
Both of these are practically non-existent, Beaton says.
“It’s bull shit,” Beaton says. “There was no training. I was on-air three days after I got here. Their idea of training was going to HR and sign a 16-page contract. Then I got a cubicle and started writing, filming and editing my own stuff three times a day, a crazy pace by any standards.”
Traditional departure clauses in TV contracts were not enacted to prevent reporters from leaving, Beaton says.
“The purpose of TV contracts was to prohibit a reporter from leaving one station and immediately go to another station in the same market,” Beaton says. “It’s unheard of for an entity to sue for leaving the business like I did.”
Beaton says he believes Sinclair waited for two years to sue him because his bosses knew he had no money at first.
“They waited for my PR firm to be profitable. They ignored me for a while then served me in my office.”
Since he left, says Beaton, something else took place: The election of former TV showman Donald Trump,
The cozy relationship between Sinclair and Trump has been widely reported.
Just last month, the company forced its anchors nationwide to read prepared statements parroting Trump’s fantasies about “fake news.” And now, Sinclair is expected to get the green light from Trump’s media watchdogs to gobble up another 42 stations from a rival broadcaster.
“I think Trump’s election has emboldened Sinclair to do whatever it wants,” Beaton said.
Sinclair has hired Miami lawyer Ravi Batta to go after Beaton and Hills. We asked him if Sinclair couldn’t be accused of extortion and why the company isn’t spending more time making its newsrooms better places to work to retain reporters who dream of better days.
He didn’t respond.