BALTIMORE, NOV. 21 -- Rudy Miller says she feels uncomfortable. As a former local television anchorwoman, she is accustomed to being the seeker of news, not its subject.
But that's exactly where she found herself this week when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued WBAL-TV, Miller's old station here, claiming it illegally paid her less than her male counterparts and then fired her for complaining about it.
WBAL executives deny treating Miller unfairly and say the commission overlooked her self-imposed limits on her work schedule. Those limits, they said, kept Miller's salary below that of the anchormen.
Miller was being paid $141,000 when her contract expired in December 1988. Anchormen were making $170,000 to $180,000.
The EEOC has pulled out all the stops, calling a news conference in Washington and singling out WBAL for a national scolding. That was necessary, said EEOC Chairman Evan J. Kemp Jr., because "most Americans look to the media as a watchdog, ever vigilant in guarding against injustice."
The suit, filed Monday in federal court here, is the first EEOC sex-discrimination case involving a television anchorwoman.
Miller, 41, now making a far lower salary as a talk show host on a local AM radio station, said today she is "uncomfortable with being the news." But it is worth it, she said, because the EEOC "is sending a message to the whole industry."
All the publicity has generated calls to her daily talk show on WCBM-AM, but she tells callers she does not want to discuss the case. "I just have to cut it off," she said.
Miller, who was an anchorwoman at WBAL for 9 1/2 years, originally sued the station on her own in January under the federal Equal Pay Act, claiming she was fired in July 1989 for demanding pay equal to anchormen's.
Then, at the invitation of the EEOC, she filed a similar complaint with that agency, creating the administrative groundwork for this week's lawsuit. Miller's attorney, Pamela J. White, said she hopes to consolidate the two suits and go to trial soon. The EEOC suit has more teeth in it, White said, empowering the trial judge not only to order back pay for Miller but to enjoin WBAL from discriminating in general.
Miller, known in Baltimore journalistic circles as an aggressive reporter, contends the station not only paid her less than its anchormen but denied her choice assignments given to the men and criticized her personal appearance while not criticizing the men's.
WBAL, a CBS affiliate owned by the Hearst Corp., counters that the salaries of anchors are pegged in large part, not to sex or physical attributes, but to which particular news shows they anchor.
From 1980 to 1984 or 1985, station general manager David J. Barrett said in an interview today, Miller's pay was roughly comparable to her male counterparts'.
At the time, she anchored the 11 p.m. newscast, "considered our key news program" and entitling her to premium pay, Barrett said.
"But then for her own personal reasons," he said, "she decided not to be on it anymore . . . . That's when her salary fell out of parity" and dropped below the men's. She anchored other newscasts throughout the day, he said, but her contract specifically called for her not to work beyond 7 p.m.
Also, Barrett said, all anchors, not just Miller, had periodic "discussions" with management about their personal appearance. "It was men and women alike," he said.
As for choice assignments, Barrett said, the station liked to "showcase" reporters, including anchors on reporting assignments, by giving them high-profile stories that would appear on the 11 p.m. newscast. Once Miller dropped out of the 11 o'clock news slot, he said, she lost that opportunity.
White, Miller's attorney, said Miller repeatedly offered to anchor the 11 p.m. newscast but was turned down. The contract imposed on Miller by the station, White said, provided that she would anchor two broadcasts a day for a total of 1 1/2 hours "at the station's selection."
There have been a few non-EEOC discrimination suits filed by TV newswomen. The best known involved a Kansas City anchorwoman who argued unsuccessfully that she was fired because of her age and appearance.