FORMER ANCHOR SUES CHANNEL 10, CLAIMING ILLEGAL CONTRACT

MELISSA GRACE Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B9

Date: Thursday, June 18, 1998

A recently resigned weekend anchor at WTEN-TV, Channel 10, has filed a lawsuit against her former employer, claiming a clause in her contract that prohibits her from accepting a job at another local station for one year is illegal. The ``non-compete'' clause in Sue Nigra's contract forbids television reporters and anchors who leave the station from accepting jobs from any commercial television station that broadcasts in Albany, Schenectady or Troy, according to documents.


Nigra, 30, filed the lawsuit, naming Young Broadcasting Inc., Channel 10's parent company, as defendant, in state Supreme Court late Monday. She is asking for a court order voiding the contractual clause. Nigra, who was the weekend anchor and medical reporter for the station, quit her job in late May. She signed the contract in June 1996.


Non-compete clauses are commonly used by television stations when hiring ``on-air personalities.'' They are rarely backed up by the courts, according to lawyers.


Richard A. Kohn, Nigra's Albany-based lawyer, said, ``You can't just use them to enforce involuntary servitude -- to prevent somebody from getting a job in the area with a competitor.''


The lawsuit alleges that WTEN-TV hires young, eager reporters and then uses the clause to keep them in low-paying jobs. Nigra, who claims to have received a job offer, at twice her former salary, from a competing station in the Capital Region, said Channel 10 pays far less than its competitors.


Nigra states in court papers she made $31,500 at Channel 10 last year. She declined to comment for this article.


The television station is standing by their contract.


``We have it in all of our employment contracts for on-air talent. It's standard for our industry, and we intend to enforce it,'' said Robert M. Peterson, vice president and general manager at WTEN-TV, whose offices are at 341 Northern Boulevard in Albany.


``She could move to Utica or Springfield and take another contract,'' he said. ``What she can't do is use the training, skills and promotion we've given her to compete with us for the period of one year.''


In the lawsuit, Nigra contends Channel 10 never considered her to be ``extraordinary or unique.'' Rather, ``I was one of several on-air persons at WTEN-TV and was by no means a star performer with a high profile in the local broadcast media.'' She says the station didn't actively promote her or feature her in its advertising or on its computer Web site.