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Assess or Be Assessed When It Comes to EEO

A trend we see in FCC enforcement actions is the FCC attributing multiple rule violations to a single act or omission, and then peppering stations with multiple fines. This trend is confirmed in two EEO enforcement actions released in the waning hours of 2010. These cases demonstrate, among other things, why it is a good time for broadcasters to undertake the EEO self-assessment activities required by the FCC’s Rules.

The first of these recent cases resulted from a 2008 random audit of a six-station radio group in Joplin, Missouri. The second case arose from the 2005 license renewal applications of a four-station radio group located in and around Medford and Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Since the license renewal applications remain pending due to an unrelated complaint, the FCC was able to examine these stations’ EEO data from 2003 until 2009.

In each case, the stations relied solely on walk-ins, word-of-mouth, and employee and business referrals as the sources of interviewees for about 25% of their job openings. Based on this, the FCC found that the stations had failed to conduct any recruitment at all for these positions, as they had only used non-public recruitment sources which do not further the FCC’s goal of assuring that stations achieve broad outreach in recruiting. The Joplin stations had also aired generic on-air announcements about broadcast employment and working for the licensee company, but the FCC did not give them any credit for these announcements because they were not specific to a particular job opening. The FCC also found that the Oregon stations did not recruit broadly enough for nearly all of their remaining hires because they relied exclusively on either Internet-based referral sources or on advertisements on their own stations.

Each group of stations also had EEO paperwork and reporting problems. The Joplin stations listed the job title for seven hires as “Other” in an annual EEO public file report. The FCC said that since the EEO public file report was missing the required job title information, the stations’ public inspection files (where the reports are placed) were missing it as well.

Similarly, the FCC found the Oregon stations failed to retain records on the number and referral sources of interviewees for their job openings. As a result of this recordkeeping violation, the FCC said that the stations’ EEO public file report, and by extension, their public inspection files, were incomplete.

To top it all off, the FCC found that “[t]hese failures reveal a continuing lack of self-assessment” of the stations’ recruitment programs, creating yet another rule violation. In all, the Joplin stations were fined $8,000.00, of which $5,000.00 was for the failure to recruit for 25% of their openings, and three fines of $1,000 each were for the stations’ incomplete annual EEO public file report, their incomplete public files, and their failure to self-assess their EEO program. The Oregon stations were fined a total of $20,000, of which $16,000.00 was attributable to their failure to recruit for 25% of their vacancies and their failure to recruit broadly enough for nearly all other vacancies, and four fines of $1,000.00 each were for the stations’ failure to retain required records, failure to have a complete annual EEO public file report, failure to have complete public inspection files, and failure to self-assess their EEO program. All of the stations must, for the next three years, submit to the FCC for scrutiny copies of their annual EEO reports and copies of all job vacancies announcements, advertisements and other evidence of recruitment outreach for the year.

While the stations in these two cases were fined for not undertaking the required self-assessment of the recruitment portion of their EEO programs, broadcasters should remember that the FCC’s Rules also require licensees to regularly examine all of their employment policies to assure that they are not discriminatory. This means examining the processes by which stations recruit, hire, promote, fire, and compensate employees to be sure that they do not have a discriminatory impact.

So while you have the employment files out, and other employment issues like raises and promotions are fresh in your mind, take some extra time to review how you are making those decisions and their impact on your staff. While you’re at it, check the public file and station website to be sure your annual EEO public file reports are up to snuff as well.