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FCC Fines Cumulus $26,000 in EEO Case

The NAB had sought to intervene without success

Cumulus must pay a $26,000 penalty for violations of the FCC’s equal employment opportunity rules at five radio stations.

The fine is higher than the FCC’s base rate because of Cumulus’s prior violations of the EEO rules, the commission ruled.

The National Association of Broadcasters had spoken up on behalf of Cumulus in this case. It asked the commission not to punish Cumulus for what was basically an administrative error that hadn’t hurt anyone. And it asked the commission to consider that the majority of prior violations predated Cumulus’s 2018 transfer of control, with many dating back more than a decade.

But the commission rejected NAB’s requests as well as a Cumulus appeal.

“Unprecedented”

Cumulus no longer owns the stations in question; it sold them to First Media Services in late 2020. The stations are in Georgia: WEGC(FM) in Sasser; WJAD(FM) in Leesburg; and WKAK(FM), WQVE(FM) and WALG(AM), all in Albany. The alleged EEO violations predate the sale. 

In 2022 the FCC issued a notice of apparent liability for forfeiture in the amount of $32,000. It said Cumulus had failed to upload annual EEO public file reports to its public inspection files, upload the required annual reports to the stations’ websites or analyze its EEO program.

The FCC said Cumulus acknowledged that the 2018 Annual Report had not been added to the public inspection files and websites until more than nine months after deadline. But Cumulus told the FCC the failure was due to a “routine administrative change” and the loss of a former employee.

Cumulus challenged the NAL. It said there was no basis for assuming that it could not have adequately analyzed the stations’ EEO program. It said the proposed forfeiture was unprecedented for one late upload. It argued that the upward adjustment based on past violations was unjust; and it said that increasing the fine based on pre-reorganization conduct is inconsistent with federal bankruptcy law and commission precedent.

The FCC rejected most of these arguments, though it did rescind $6,000 from the originally proposed fine for one violation. You can read the ruling here.

Among other things, the FCC wrote: “Cumulus’s implication that it is a drastically different organization post-transfer is belied by the fact that its core senior management team remained unchanged by the 2018 transfer of control.” 

And it rejected the argument that by weighing violations from before 2018, the FCC “causes the new stockholders of Cumulus (i.e., its creditors) to suffer a reduction in the value of the consideration provided to them under the reorganization plan approved by the Bankruptcy Court pursuant to the Bankruptcy Code.”

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