Evan J. Kemp, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has sent what he hopes will be a loud message to the American media that it is going to have to stop discriminating against women. The EEOC, which was in a bit of a coma during the Reagan era, is back in the ballgame.
The agency filed a suit in federal court last week alleging that Baltimore television station WBAL discriminated against anchorwoman Rudy Miller by paying her less than two male anchors who had less experience. It is the first time the agency has filed suit on behalf of an individual against a television station.
Kemp said the suit is part of a strategy to maximize the agency's impact by making one employer an example for an entire industry. "We are in a different era, changing from the assembly line type of economy to an information age or the computer age and I think we should bring cases that reflect that change," he said in an interview yesterday. "The media has a profound effect on our society. They are the watchdogs of our morals. If they are practicing discrimination, how well will they cover stories about other employers that discriminate against people?"
One of the unusual aspects of the Miller case is her high salary: $141,000 when her contract was up.
"I think as you go up and earn more money you are more reluctant to bring a case," Kemp said. "You feel you jeopardize yourself with your employer as well as other employers. This should send a message to newspapers and others in the media. Our job is to do away with discrimination," and a person's salary does not prevent her from seeking legal protections against pay discrimination. One of the male anchors at WBAL was paid $170,000 in 1988 and another was paid $180,000.
According to the EEOC suit, Miller was offered $145,000 for the 1989 year during contract negotiations. One of the male anchors was paid $190,000 that year and the other was paid $195,000. Pamela White, Miller's lawyer in a suit she filed in January, said station management had said from the outset that it wanted to renew Miller's contract and that she was the most popular anchor. But negotiations never got past her demand for equal pay and the station terminated negotiations in July 1989. WBAL is owned by the Hearst Corp.
The station has said that it paid Miller less because she refused to anchor the 11 p.m. newscast. White said Miller stopped doing the 11 p.m. newscast on doctor's orders when she was pregnant in October 1984, but told the station during contract negotiations that she was again available to do it.
White said one impact of having the EEOC sue is that it can ask the judge to enjoin Hearst from discriminating throughout WBAL. If Miller wins, she is also entitled to up to two years of back pay and can seek reinstatement. She is currently hosting a radio talk show in Baltimore.
Women in the media earn an average of 64 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to a five-year study by Jean Gaddy Wilson at the University of Missouri. She surveyed 1,599 daily newspapers, 1,219 television stations and 1,091 radio stations. She found that the only place where women's and men's salaries were equal was at the entry level and that with every year of employment and every step upward, women fell further behind. Women bosses in television, for example, earned $9,074 less than a man with the same experience and supervising the same number of employees. The discrepancy in newspapers is $7,793 and in radio it is $3,323.
Kemp said that his agency can act only after people go to their local EEOC agencies and file complaints. "The message should be out."
The Baltimore Sun chided the EEOC in an editorial for not taking on a case with more beneficiaries. "There are only so many $140,000 to $200,000 local television anchors in the land," the editorial said, neatly missing the point that its newsroom is a potential target as well. In the final paragraph, however, The Sun saw a direct threat: "It seems to us a clear violation of the First Amendment for a federal regulatory agency or a federal judge to force government participation in the editorial processes and decision-making of a journalistic enterprise."
The First Amendment does not shield illegal activities. It doesn't protect television stations or newspapers from having to comply with Fair Labor Standards, Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, postal regulations, or the Equal Pay Act. What has protected the media from having to obey the law so far is lax enforcement and that unwritten rule among media owners that you don't gore one another's ox on such sensitive matters as your payroll. No one has been watching the watchdog.
Chairman Kemp is fixing to change that.