Award-winning former radio host sues WLRN for anti-Hispanic sentiment. Station denies it

Former WLRN “Sundial” host Carlos Frias, who was terminated after his show was canceled amid allegations of discrimination and anti-Hispanic sentiment at the station, is suing his past employer, seeking reemployment and compensation for months of lost wages, his attorney told the Miami Herald.

After his termination in early February, Frias filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination led to his firing.

The EEOC granted Frias’ request for the right to sue his former employer, as the commission said it would be “unlikely” to complete its investigation within 180 days, an EEOC dismissal and notice of rights form read.

In a statement Wednesday, John LaBonia, South Florida Public Media Group CEO and WLRN’s general manager, defended the station: “The allegations raised in this lawsuit brought by former Sundial host, Mr. Carlos Frias, are baseless and without merit. We categorically deny the allegations raised and will vigorously defend our organization and our staff.”

EEOC complaints are confidential and not public documents.

The statement also noted that 63 percent — 17 of 27 — of WLRN’s newsroom’s employees are journalists of color.

Bill Amlong, Frias’ attorney, said the EEOC complaint was a necessary step before filing a suit against the station in federal court alleging discrimination. The lawsuit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

“We don’t want to go to war with WLRN; it’s a public radio station that depends on donations,” Amlong said. “But this is just wrong. If you are going to reflect Miami, you have got to recognize that it is increasingly Latino.”

Judge Melissa Damian will preside over the suit, which lists South Florida Public Media Company as a defendant. The corporation runs WLRN, a Miami Herald news partner.

READ MORE: Award-winning journalist accuses WLRN of discrimination — claiming anti-Hispanic bias

Frias, 48, a former food editor at the Miami Herald, was hired by WLRN in 2022. For a little over a year, he hosted the show “Sundial,” which featured interviews with South Floridians in the arts, in politics, in education etc.

‘Cultural comfort zones’

Frias is seeking possible reemployment, back wages and damages for “emotional distress,” according to the lawsuit.

Frias alleges the radio station fired him and his two producers — Leslie Ovalle Atkinson and Elisa Baena — without any warning or explanation shortly after management at the station told one of the trio that “Sundial” was “sounding very Latino,” the lawsuit read.

READ MORE: Latina WLRN staffer quits in solidarity with ousted ‘Sundial’ employees

The suit says the show’s supervisor created a spreadsheet showing the ethnicity of its guests, but only those who mentioned a “Latino or Hispanic” topic.

When Frias asked for clarification on the document, the vice president of radio said “...the station had to be considerate of listeners‘ ‘cultural comfort zones,’” the suit said.

The lawsuit also notes Frias was given a formal reprimand in January, the first in his journalistic career, over a response he made on Facebook about a reader’s letter he felt was racist.

A week after Frias filed a complaint with an HR representative about the alleged anti-Hispanic sentiment he and his radio team had faced at the station, he was fired.

WLRN, whose newsroom has won several top broadcasting awards, said its decision was based on refocusing resources to produce more investigative journalism.