Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Former WEAA manager sues Morgan State, alleging she was fired for not endorsing fraudulent reports

A former manager at Morgan State University’s WEAA radio is alleging fraud and political favoritism at the station in a lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Michele Williams, who was fired in August as director of broadcast operations at the school, is seeking $2 million for what her suit calls wrongful termination by the university and defamation on the part of a Morgan State dean.

In the suit, first reported by Courthouse News Service, Williams alleges she was fired for not signing off on fraudulent reports to the Corporation for Public Brodcasting intended to inflate funding for the station.

According to suit, the level of federal funding from CPB is related to the station’s operating expenses. Williams alleges that from 2014 to 2016, the station’s operating expenses were “intentionally inflated to pad the university’s funding.”

While WEAA’s operating expenses ran about $750,000 a year in 2014, ‘15 and ‘16, “the university reported that WEAA had operating expenses of approximately $1,750,000 to $1,950,000” a year, according to the suit.

In her filing, Williams says that when it came time last year to certify 2016 operating expenses, which she says were again inflated by a million dollars, she refused. She says she let DeWayne Wickham, dean of the School of Global Journalism and Communication, and others at the university know she was “blowing the whistle on the university’s practice of overstating the operating costs of WEAA.”

The suit says that is when the university “made the decision to terminate” her with the aim of precluding her “from having any participation in the fiscal year financial statements.”

It should be noted that the station was going through a controversial period of major change last summer when Williams was terminated. Marc Steiner’s long-running show left the airwaves in July. And Sean Yoes, host of the nightly “First Edition” show, left the station in September. Wickham was setting a new course for WEAA, which he has said was necessary because of declining levels of listenership.

Williams leveled other complaints against Wickham in the filing.

She alleges favoritism on his part for then-candidate Catherine Pugh when he allegedly ordered Williams to cancel a debate among mayoral candidates on Nov. 3, 2016 after Pugh told Wickham she would not participate.

“Dean Wickham was attempting to influence the course of public debate in the Baltimore mayoral candidate race” by requiring Williams “to treat the Democratic candidate differently than the other parties’ candidates,” the suit says.

While the suit seeks $1 million for wrongful termination, it seeks another $1 million for defamation by Wickham.

Wickham referred The Sun to a university spokesman for comment Friday.

Morgan State spokesman Larry Jones said in an email it was schoool policy to “not provide comment on any current or pending litigation involving the university.”

Daniel Kenney, Williams’ attorney, responded to an interview request Friday afternoon with an email statement.

“Michele Williams was wrongfully terminated from her position as Director of Broadcast Operations for reporting financial irregularities and political favoritism at Morgan State University,” he wrote. “She looks forward to vindicating her rights through the litigation process.”

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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