FCC EEO recruiting obligations

In July, we wrote about the FCC’s plan to transfer the responsibility for EEO enforcement from the Media Bureau, where it has resided, to the Enforcement Bureau which the FCC suggested would have more resources and experience to aggressively enforce the FCC’s EEO rules and policies.  That transfer was effective on Friday (see the

The FCC on Friday released a declaratory ruling making it significantly easier for broadcasters and MVPDs to meet their EEO obligations imposed by FCC rules.  These rules for broadcasters and MVPDs (cable and satellite TV providers) requires that these businesses, when filling job openings, widely disseminate information about the openings in a manner that is expected to reach members of all community groups in the area from which employees are likely to be found.  In the past, under the rules adopted in 2002, the Commission has not allowed recruitment to be conducted solely through online sources.  Instead, the 2002 order suggested that the daily newspaper would, in many communities, be an outlet that would reach the diverse groups within a community – though most broadcasters supplemented newspaper publication with notifications to numerous schools, community organizations, educational institutions and others who might possibly refer employee candidates.  Stations that relied solely on online sources faced substantial fines from the FCC (see the cases we summarized here and here).

The decision on Friday recognized that we are in a different world than when these rules were adopted almost 15 years ago.  Now, most recruiting is done online.  Thus, in response to a petition I filed on behalf of clients (summarized here), the FCC determined that a broadcaster or MVPD can rely solely on online sources in its recruiting.  It no longer needs to use the newspaper, reach out to community groups community groups or even use its own airwaves to give notice of job openings to satisfy the wide dissemination obligation.  The FCC encouraged stations to continue to use some of these outreach methods, but it is no longer required.  The broadcaster or MVPD needs to be reasonable in picking online sources that are likely to reach the members of various groups within its community – though the decision as to exactly which online employment sources to use will be left to the good-faith discretion of the broadcaster or MVPD.  The Commission went so far as to say that, depending on the circumstances, a single online source could reasonably be found to be sufficient.
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An FCC decision fining a cable company $11,000 for not adequately recruiting for job openings should be viewed as a warning to broadcasters as well as well as MVPDs – failure to recruit for job openings by disseminating information about those opening through diverse sources will likely result in a substantial fine under the current rules being enforced by the Commission’s Media Bureau. As the Commission has held before (see our article here), simply recruiting through online sources will not be enough to avoid the imposition of a fine. In this case, the FCC specifically points out that approximately 30% of the cable system’s service area did not have Internet access, so people in that group were likely not exposed to information about the station’s job openings. As the Commission requires that job openings be publicized so as to reach all groups within a system’s (or a broadcast station’s) recruitment area (which is related to its core service area), the decision found that the failure to recruit so as to reach this significant portion of the local population, together with the failure to complete one year’s EEO public inspection file report, merited a fine of $11,000.

One of the interesting aspects of this decision is the emphasis that the Media Bureau continues to put on the distinction between online recruiting and other more traditional means of reaching out to potential job applicants (e.g. using employment agencies, sending notices to community groups, using college job offices, etc.). Even though Commissioner O’Rielly has suggested that the Commission allow recruiting to be done solely using online sources (see our article here), as that is much more in tune with the way that job seekers today look for potential employment opportunities, the Commission continues to insist on station’s using these more traditional outreach efforts regardless of their success rate. In fact, the FCC has never revisited its 2003 EEO order that presumes that the local newspaper is a source that can reach most groups within a community, when it no doubt can be proven that, in today’s world, the circulation of online job sites is significantly greater than that of almost any newspaper. Commissioner O’Rielly notes that the FCC itself has recognized the reach of the Internet through actions such as the requirements that broadcast and MVPD public files be moved online, and that disclosures about contest rules can be made online. Yet, in the EEO world, online recruitment, unless tied with the use of other more traditional outside sources, will bring a fine. Certainly, it is an issue that the FCC needs to revisit – and one that perhaps will be revisited in appeals of decisions like this one, or in response to the calls of Commissioner O’Rielly and others.
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In a post on the FCC’s blog, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly proposed allowing broadcasters to meet their EEO wide dissemination obligations solely through Internet sources. As we recently wrote, broadcasters need to widely disseminate information about job openings at their stations, using sources that are designed to reach all of the major groups that may exist within a station’s recruitment area. These sources could include school groups, minority organizations, social or community organizations, or other population groups that may exist in a station’s community. The current EEO rules, adopted a dozen years ago, suggested that a significant newspaper of general circulation may be one way to reach most of the groups within a community. But, as the Internet was not seen as universally available at that point, the FCC ruled that online sources alone would not be sufficient to meet these wide dissemination requirements. The FCC has continued to enforce that decision, even penalizing stations that relied solely on online sources for wide dissemination purposes (see, for instance, our summary of one such decision fining a number of stations that relied primarily on online sources, here). Commissioner O’Rielly suggests that this does not make sense in today’s world, as the Internet is much more available than the newspaper and other more “traditional” recruitment sources.

The Commissioner cites many statistics about the current availability of the Internet to diverse populations, and points to the fact that virtually all public libraries now have public Internet access, and one of the principal reasons for such Internet access if often to provide employment opportunities. He points to all of the online job sites that now exist, and the relative paucity of job listings in today’s newspaper. Will his proposal go anywhere?
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The nuts and bolts of legal issues for broadcasters were highlighted in two sessions in which I participated at last week’s joint convention of the Oregon and Washington State Broadcasters Associations, held in Stephenson, Washington, on the Columbia River that divides the two states.  Initially, I conducted a seminar for broadcasters providing a refresher on their

As I was preparing for a session updating and refreshing broadcasters about their obligations under the FCC’s EEO rules at the Iowa Broadcasters Association annual convention in Des Moines on June 30, I learned of what seemed to be a startling development – the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, one of the most effective advocates in Washington for minority hiring and ownership, had urged the FCC to suspend its enforcement of the EEO rules. What was this all about? I went on with my presentation (the PowerPoint slides for which are available here, and the slides for the presentation that I did at another session providing an update on Washington issues for radio broadcasters are available here), quickly adding a summary of the MMTC request. While some broadcasters might have hoped that the request recognized that the EEO rules were no longer necessary as broadcasters were, on their own, making great strides in diversifying their workforce, in fact what the MMTC was seeking was tighter EEO enforcement, contending that the current rules are so ineffective as to not be worth the time spent on their implementation and enforcement.

While MMTC acknowledged that there have been a number of recent cases fining stations for noncompliance with the EEO rules, it contends that often the stations that are hit by such fines have very diverse workforces, and thus should not have to worry about EEO outreach. We have written about some of these fines.  These cases demonstrate that the current rules are not targeted at minority and gender-based affirmative action, as FCC rules requiring any evaluation of minority and gender-based hiring were twice declared by the US Court of Appeals to be instances of unconstitutional reverse discrimination. Instead, the current rules are focused instead on bringing new people into the broadcast employment workforce – people recruited from a wide variety of community groups, and not exclusively by word of mouth or through other hiring avenues that simply take people from traditional broadcast hiring sources. But, as MMTC points out, these rules are not based on necessarily seeking to include members of minority groups or women in station workforces.  Thus, as their focus is simply on wide dissemination of information about job openings, even stations that have high percentages of minorities and women on their staffs can still run afoul of the rules by not publicizing job openings.


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