EEO supplemental efforts

As summer approaches, many stations are preparing for the arrival of summer interns.  While internship programs can earn stations EEO “credit” towards meeting the requirement that they conduct non-vacancy specific outreach efforts (the so-called “menu options” or “supplemental efforts” offered by the FCC to encourage stations to reach out to their communities to educate community residents as to what jobs are available at broadcast stations, and how people can train for and find out about such openings (see the article here for a link to a presentation that I did on all of the FCC’s EEO requirements), stations need to be cautious in setting up their internship programs for other reasons. In recent years, there have been a large number of lawsuits in over whether interns need to be paid for their work. While these lawsuits have spanned many industries, several involved broadcasters and other media companies.  Thus, we felt the need for this cautionary note.

These disputes arise over wage and hour issues.  In the most general terms, lawyers for former interns who were not paid have argued that the interns should have been paid as they functioned as employees of the station.  In analyzing these issues, courts look at a number of issues, principally to determine if the internship was one that was meant more to benefit the intern and their education, or whether it was of a greater benefit it the station.  Where the interns do the work that a paid employee would normally do, then there is an argument that the intern should themselves have been paid. What issues do the courts review?
Continue Reading Summer Internships – Good for FCC EEO Credit, But Be Careful of Wage and Hour Law Implications

In two decisions released this week, the FCC proposed to fine two broadcast groups $20,000 each for EEO violations.  In recent years, when the FCC releases fines for broadcast EEO violations, they seem to be trying to emphasize a point as to some aspect of the EEO rules by releasing multiple decisions at the same time all having the same theme.  In the cases released this week, the point that was common to both fines was that the broadcaster had not regularly sent information openings about job openings to community organizations that asked to be notified about such openings.  It was this failure, plus the failure of the stations to discover the problem through the self-assessment that is supposed to be regularly undertaken by a broadcaster of its EEO program, and the failure to report the problem to the FCC, that led to these fines, issued to two large broadcasters – Maryland Public Television (see the FCC opinion here) and AM/FM Broadcasting (see the FCC opinion here).

The FCC’s EEO program for broadcasters has three prongs. The first requires that the broadcaster adopt an outreach program to notify all significant groups within its community of job openings at the station.  The FCC is looking for an outreach program that reaches beyond the “old boy’s network,” to recruit new people from diverse segments of the community to work at broadcast stations.  In the past, many of the EEO fines that were issued focused on this first prong of the program – fining stations that either did not reach out to community groups about openings for most of its jobs (see, for instance, our article here), or where the outreach was insufficiently broad (see, for instance, our article here about fines issued to stations that had relied solely on in-house recruiting or online sources which, alone were deemed insufficient.  The cases this week went to prong 2 of the EEO program – the obligation to notify groups about job openings when those groups ask that they be notified.
Continue Reading Two $20,000 FCC Fines for EEO Violations Demonstrate the Importance of Notifications of Job Openings to Community Groups

Last week, I participated in an FCC-sponsored webinar to discuss its EEO rules.  Along with two other private firm lawyers, the chief of the FCC’s Office that administers its EEO rules and one of his senior staff members participated on a panel to discuss the legal obligations of broadcasters and MVPDs in meeting the EEO rules.  The panel, which lasted almost two hours, was a very thorough discussion of the requirements of the FCC rules.  It provided insight into how the FCC identifies problems, and even suggested some ideas as to how broadcasters can assure compliance with the requirements in the easiest way possible.  While lengthy, the webinar, which is archived on the FCC’s website, is worth viewing to get a very good summary of the FCC rules.  If a station or MVPD has its management employees and others with hiring responsibility sit down and watch the video, and use it as part of a training program for management employees on EEO matters, it may even count as one of the non-job specific supplemental outreach initiatives that the FCC requires each entity subject to the EEO rules to conduct.

We wrote last week about a recent set of FCC fines to two broadcasters that had not widely disseminated information about all of their job openings – relying instead on only a combination of internal sources (word-of-mouth, station websites, intra-company referrals) and Internet websites for their outreach efforts for a substantial number of job openings.  At the webinar, the FCC officials said that there were a number of other enforcement actions in the pipeline that should be public soon.  The FCC is reviewing every license renewal application that is filed with the FCC to determine if its accompanying Form 396 provides information necessary to demonstrate compliance with the three prongs of the FCC’s EEO program – wide dissemination for all job openings, notice of job openings to community groups that request such notice, and non-vacancy specific initiatives that are designed to educate a community about the nature and requirements of broadcast jobs.  Stations are also reviewed when the FCC conducts random audits (5% of all stations and MVPDs are supposed to be audited annually) and when complaints or other information comes to the attention of the FCC staff.  Staff members remarked that they have even called stations to discuss issues when visiting a station website for personal reasons and noting the absence of the most recent Annual EEO Public File Report that needs to be posted on a station website on the anniversary date of the filing of the license renewal applications for stations in the state of the station’s city of license. 


Continue Reading More EEO Fines on Their Way – And Helpful Hints on EEO Compliance From the FCC’s EEO Webinar