In yet another chapter in the continuing saga of internal squabbles at WHFS Radio, the former national sales manager for the Landover-based progressive rock station filed suit yesterday for wrongful termination.
Patti A. Ebbert, wife of WHFS disc jockey Damian Einstein, claims in the suit that she was fired March 29 for "refusing to get involved with questionable, illegal and unethical activities." She is asking $3 million in punitive damages.
"We categorically deny any of the wrongdoing that was alleged in the complaint," said T. Alan Hay, general manager of WHFS-FM (99.1).
Mr. Hay referred further questions to Mark Tone, an attorney for Duchossois Communications, the Illinois-based company that owns WHFS. "We certainly deny that [Ms. Ebbert] was terminated because of any illegal actions," Mr. Tone said, but would not specify why she was terminated.
"We're going to talk plenty about why she was terminated in court," Mr. Tone added.
Ms. Ebbert has been at WHFS since 1972. Her husband, who began working at the station in 1970, was relieved of his regular broadcasting position in April 1989, but reinstated last October after the Maryland Commission on Human Relations ruled that he had been unlawfully discriminated against.
Mr. Einstein suffered severe head injuries in a traffic accident 16 years ago. Despite his halting speech patterns, his removal from the air had prompted an outcry from WHFS listeners.
Ms. Ebbert -- who said her main goal "is that I get my job back" -- also has filed complaints with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations charging that WHFS' motivation for firing her was in part retaliatory because of her husband's actions.
In her civil suit, filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Ms. Ebbert alleges that the station falsified logs and told advertisers it had aired promotional spots that never were broadcast, and that "announcers for WHFS were regularly engaging in 'Plugola,' " which the FCC defines as plugging goods and services for which the person doing the plugging has a financial interest.
She also claims that WHFS did not comply with FCC regulations for providing political advertising at the station's lowest rates, and that tickets that were supposed to be distributed to listeners were given to people on a predetermined list.
In denying the charges of wrongdoing, Mr. Tone said, "We're going to defend ourselves very aggressively and we believe that ultimately we'll be vindicated."