Rudy Miller and the EEOC

November 23, 1990

Since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes only 1 percent of the complaints filed with it to court, we are a little puzzled as to why Rudy Miller's case has become one of them. We are also more than a little concerned.

Ms. Miller charges that WBAL-TV discriminated against her on the basis of sex while she was employed as what is generally referred to as a "celebrity anchorperson." EEOC says she was paid less than male anchorpersons performing "substantially equal work." Not offering "equal" pay for only "substantially equal" work hardly sounds unfair, much less illegal. We would imagine there are among the 99 percent of the complaints the EEOC doesn't take to court better cases than this.

We also imagine there are many more cases in which if sex discrimination were proved in court and a warning given to like-situated employers, there would be many more beneficiaries. There are only so many $140,000-$200,000 local television anchors in the land.

The general public watches local news shows every day and night and knows what it sees -- that there is probably no enterprise in which women (and blacks, too, it should be said) are more prominent and occupy so large a proportion of the coveted positions. Everything we have encountered suggests that all these celebrity journalists are able to play competitive stations against each other in ways that make discrimination in hiring and employment terms all but impossible.

The EEOC's decision in this case was obviously based in part on its expected high visibility. (EEOC Chairman Evan Kemp Jr. said he wanted to "send a message" to the television industry.) That could boomerang. Many people who may know nothing about EEOC but this, and who know what they see with their own eyes on television, are going to regard the suit -- and perhaps the agency and even the laws invoked -- as misguided.

Our own special concern is that the EEOC first tried to force and, having failed, is now asking a judge to order WBAL-TV to rehire Ms. Miller and to assign her to stories in a way they approve. So far as we can determine from the EEOC, itself, this is a first in the field of journalism. 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.

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