A Notice of Apparent Liability released yesterday shows that the FCC is still enforcing its EEO rules even though those rules have been somewhat relaxed to reflect modern recruiting practices. As we wrote here, the FCC now allows a station to recruit to fill employment vacancies solely by using online sources. But, as we warned here, that does not mean that a station can ignore its obligations to document its EEO efforts and to otherwise observe all of the obligations set out in the EEO rules. In yesterday’s action, the FCC’s Media Bureau proposes a $20,000 fine for a license operating a 5-station cluster in South Carolina that allegedly did not keep good EEO records and, when subject to a random EEO audit, was unable to identify any recruitment sources for other than word-of-mouth recruiting for 6 of 11 hires over a two-year period. For several positions, the licensee was said to not even be able to provide information about any recruitment sources that were used by the station.
The FCC requires stations to use sources other than its existing employees to recruit to fill full-time vacant positions. Using simply word-of mouth recruiting is considered to be recruiting through the “old-boys network” that the FCC’s EEO rules are designed to overcome, so this violation alone was enough for the FCC to have concerns. But, according to the FCC’s Notice, that was not the only deficiency in the licensee’s paperwork.
Apparently, the station also failed to track the interviewees that it considered for 10 of the 11 vacant positions for which it recruited in the 2 years subject to the audit. The FCC requires that stations report the employment sources that referred each interviewee to the station – information used to judge if the employment notices sent by the station are actually producing interviewees from diverse sources. Not having this information prevents the station from providing the required information about the sources of interviewees to the FCC, leading to a number of reporting failures cited by the Commission.
In addition, the Notice indicates that the station failed to send notices about many of its job openings to an organization that had specifically requested notices of such openings. These “Prong Two” sources need to continue to get EEO notices even if the station otherwise is using online recruiting sources to meet its “Prong One” obligations to widely disseminate information about its job openings. The FCC requires that stations keep records of organizations that specifically request notices of employment openings at the station, and send job vacancy information to these organizations – the second prong of its three-part EEO rules. See this post for more information about these obligations.
Finally, because the licensee apparently did not gather the required information, the Media Bureau added an additional proposed fine for the station not engaging in self-assessment of its recruitment program. Stations are required to periodically review the recruitment sources that they use to make sure that the sources are producing interviewees from diverse sources and, if not, to find different sources that will produce such interviewees. If the station does not track where its interviewees come from, the FCC will routinely conclude that it did not engage in the required self-assessment of its EEO program, and that is what it did here.
The Media Bureau added up the fines for these violations and ended up with a proposed fine of $16,000. However, as these stations are owned by Cumulus, a group owner who twice before had been fined by the FCC for EEO violations, the FCC upped the penalty to $20000 concluding that the licensee was a repeat offender. In addition, the Notice proposed to require “reporting conditions for three years, making the licensee file with the FCC its annual Public Inspection File Reports – along with all of the backing data for those reports – so that the FCC can scrutinize the stations’ EEO performance.
This proposed fine shows that the FCC has not forgotten about the EEO rules, even if it has changed them to allow for online recruiting. One interesting aspect of the case not discussed at all in the Notice is that these reports were for the 2009-2011 period, and most of the FCC responses were filed in 2012. Why the proposed fine took 5 years to be issued is not clear, and the licensee may well take issue with that delay. Nevertheless, the principal point of this Notice is that the FCC is continuing to scrutinize EEO, even in this deregulatory era, so stations need to comply with the obligations that remain on the books.