FCC Issues Heavy Fines For EEO Violations

Posted on December 17th, 2013 by

The FCC audits a few hundred broadcast stations for EEO compliance each year, in addition to scrutinizing EEO issues at license renewal time.  The audit process checks EEO compliance over a two-year period with a close examination of a station’s EEO paperwork.  That paperwork either confirms that a station is EEO compliant or, as in two recent instances, confirms that a station licensee must pay a large sum to the government.  These aren’t the largest fines that we’ve seen for EEO violations, but the basis for them does teach a few lessons.

Both decisions involve a station employment unit’s failure to notify third parties about full time vacancies.  Let’s review that requirement.  A broadcast station employment unit with at least five full time employees (30 hrs/week) must conduct broad outreach in connection with any efforts to fill a full-time vacancy.  Part of that effort includes providing notice of the vacancy to third parties who elected – in response to earlier communications from the SEU – to receive notice of full time vacancies.

In the first case, a six-station SEU with 36 full time vacancies over a two-year period, failed to provide notification of 33 of those vacancies to every organization that had requested vacancy notification.  The FCC also found that the SEU failed to analyze its recruitment program on an ongoing basis to address the vacancy notice issue.  The total tab was $20,000 — $16,000 for not sending the notices, and another $4,000 for failing to review its program.  In addition, the FCC ordered reporting conditions for the SEU over a three-year period – essentially a rolling audit of the SEU’s EEO program.

In the second case, only one vacancy notice was missed, but only one organization had requested notice.  However, that lack of notice was gleaned by the FCC from the paperwork submitted with the licensee’s audit response, and the licensee’s audit response contradicted the paperwork by claiming it had not received any requests from organizations seeking vacancy notifications.  So, in addition to failing to provide a vacancy notification, and failing to analyze its recruitment program to catch that error, the FCC found that the Licensee provided incorrect factual information of a material nature without a reasonable basis for believing that the information was correct and accurate.  The total tab in this case was also $20,000, with just $1,000 for the missed notification and $2,000 for failing to review its program, but another $17,000 for providing incorrect factual information to the FCC.  On top of that, the FCC imposed 3-years of reporting conditions as well.  A little double checking might have avoided the extra $17,000, as well as unnecessarily flirting with a potentially far more serious finding of intentionally misleading the FCC.

The end of each calendar year usually brings another round of EEO audits.  We’ll be watching for those, and you should be too.  The key to these audits is to have the paperwork related to your efforts to fill each full time vacancy.  It is far easier to retain that paperwork in a file for each vacancy as you are filling it than to go back through materials and email deleted/sent items to reconstruct your outreach efforts when the FCC’s audit letter arrives.  It’s best to periodically review your outreach program to ensure that it is effective.