ST. PETERSBURG — Longtime WTSP-Ch. 10 news anchor Reginald Roundtree was fired Friday after more than two decades with the TV station.
Roundtree’s termination followed an internal review by the station’s parent company TEGNA Inc., said an email from spokeswoman Anne Bentley to the Tampa Bay Times.
She declined to elaborate further on why Roundtree was fired, saying TEGNA — a Virginia company that runs 49 television stations nationwide — does not comment on personnel matters.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Prominent Pinellas lawyer John Trevena mired in personal drama
But Roundtree’s lawyer said TEGNA told them they let the anchor go because of questions raised in a recent Times article about the news anchor’s professional ethics in using his close personal friendship with a local criminal defense attorney to land an interview with his client in a high-profile shooting case.
Roundtree disputes that he acted improperly, said his lawyer Wil Florin. They say TEGNA’s stated reason was a pretext. Instead, the 60-year-old Roundtree believes he was fired in retaliation for an age discrimination complaint he filed against TEGNA and WTSP.
“Seniority and standing in the community doesn't really matter to this company,” Florin said. “They want young, fresh faces, and there's laws that protect folks from being discriminated against on the basis of age.”
Florin provided the Times with a letter dated Jan. 28 addressed to WTSP and its parent company that accuses management of engaging in a “pattern or practice of age discrimination against their older employees, including Mr. Roundtree.” Attached to the letter is a formal complaint Roundtree filed with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
TEGNA disputed that assertion. “Our decision had nothing to do with his EEOC allegations,” Bentley said in an email.
Roundtree had worked for the CBS affiliate more than 20 years, according to his online biography, most recently as the night news anchor. He previously worked as a Miami police officer and got his first TV job at WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach. He was born in Daytona Beach and raised in New York and Miami. News of his termination was not posted to WTSP’s website as of Friday afternoon. But Roundtree’s photo was gone from the “meet the team” page. A call to the station for comment was referred to TEGNA.
Substitute anchors have been filling in for Roundtree on recent broadcasts. Meanwhile he has been sharing images of himself golfing to his 3,900 Facebook followers.
The termination follows a bizarre legal dispute involving prominent Pinellas defense attorney John Trevena. The lawyer wrote in court documents that Roundtree, whom he called his “former best friend,” introduced him to a woman who stole money, jewelry and a car from Trevena and his wife. The woman, Deena Covell, is the sister of Roundtree's wife Tresha.
Those revelations raised questions about Roundtree's journalistic ethics: Trevena is representing Michael Drejka, the man who shot and killed an unarmed Markeis McGlockton after McGlockton pushed Drejka down in a July 19 dispute over a convenience store parking space.
The shooting touched off a national debate about self-defense, and Roundtree enjoyed exclusive access to Drejka, including the opportunity to interview him while he was in custody at the Pinellas County jail.
Trevena and Roundtree said their friendship led to the interview. But Trevena on Friday defended his decision to allow his friend Roundtree to interview his client, saying “he’s always been balanced in his reporting. The reason I chose him is not only because he was my friend, but because he’s a good reporter.”
As for Roundtree’s firing, Trevena added: “That was a matter between him and his television station.”
In 2006, Roundtree was sentenced to six months probation after pleading no contest to a charge stemming from a DUI arrest after he was seen driving nearly twice the 45 mph speed limit on the Courtney Campbell Parkway. Prosecutors reduced the charge to reckless driving, in part because of problems with a field sobriety test recording.
Roundtree's employment complaint names eight former employees over the age of 40 who were fired over the last five years and five younger employees who were given lucrative contracts. It includes allegations of hostility toward older employees, including an April 2017 incident in which a former news director said he didn't “want old guys with ties on my news set.”
The complaint includes a copy of Roundtree's most recent contract for a term beginning March 1, which directs Roundtree to give up his anchor chair Aug. 31 and accept a demotion to “investigative reporter.” It also came with a pay cut: for the six months he would continue as anchor, he was promised $112,500. But as a reporter, he would earn $120,000 over the next year.
Thus it would have cut his news anchor salary in half.
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.