WBAL-TV manager denies sex bias

November 20, 1990|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The general manager of WBAL-TV has decried a federal sex discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of Ruth Ann "Rudy" Miller, who was ousted as a news anchor at the station last year.

David J. Barrett, the station manager and vice president, said the EEOC ignored "important material facts and disregarded material testimony" from station officials in handling Miller's case in an official "determination" last July and in the suit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Barrett said the station "managed Miller's employment fairly and equitably" based on her refusal to co-anchor WBAL-TV's prime 11 p.m. newscast and her desire to anchor earlier newscasts.

The suit named WBAL-TV and its parent, the Hearst Corp., as defendants. It claims station officials violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by paying Miller less than it paid male anchors for "substantially equal work," subjecting her to "different assignments, terms and conditions and privileges of employment" because she is a woman, and retaliating against her by firing her in 1989 when she demanded equal pay.

Evan J. Kemp Jr., EEOC chairman, said at a press conference here yesterday that the agency found Miller to be "a victim of discrimination -- she was paid less and then fired because she is a woman."

The EEOC requested a permanent injunction against WBAL's allegedly sexually discriminatory employment practices and asked a judge to order the station to provide equal pay to female anchors.

The suit also seeks back wages for Miller and an equal amount in liquidated damages.

Barrett said he anticipated the suit after the EEOC determined in July that the station violated federal laws in dealing with Miller, who filed a similar suit through a private attorney last January. An EEOC attorney said yesterday that the agency filed suit after conciliation efforts failed.

"The central issue in this matter is equal pay for equal work," Barrett said. "When this matter began in 1984, Rudy Miller was the second highest paid news anchor at WBAL-TV, earning only $500 less per year than the highest paid anchor, even though that anchor was doing three daily news programs, at 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m., compared to Miller's two at 5 and 11."

Barrett said Miller "withdrew by her own choice from the 11 p.m. news program and opted to limit her anchor responsibilities to earlier programs.

"Only at the point of Rudy Miller's refusal to anchor the key 11 p.m. news program did the terms of her compensation with her co-anchor on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. programs fall out of parity," he said. "When she left the station in 1989, she was earning $141,000 as the noon and 5 p.m news anchor."

Miller claimed in her suit that she was denied certain news assignments because they "involved too much running around for a woman," and that she was required by station officials to get their approval for hairstyles and clothes she wore on newscasts.

"We dispute Rudy Miller's position about her employment experience at WBAL-TV and we strongly and emphatically disagree with the EEOC's determination," Barrett said.

Miller, who now is under contract to WCBM radio and WMAR-TV and publishes a family magazine, has said she is not sure she would return to WBAL-TV as part of any settlement.

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