St. Louis Public Radio Sued For Racial Discrimination

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Suit claims station manager Tim Eby didn't follow up on promotion promise of his predecessor. -
Suit claims station manager Tim Eby didn't follow up on promotion promise of his predecessor.
A longtime employee of St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU 90.7) has sued the station's general manager and the curators of the University of Missouri on charges that she was passed over for promotions because she is black.

Sherry Hieken, the station's business and operations manager in her 13th year of employment, claims that the stress of not being promoted led, in part, to her undergoing triple bypass surgery in June 2009. Hieken further contends that over the past year and a half she's witnessed white employees at the NPR affiliate receive promotions while black staff members are overlooked.

St. Louis Public Radio is part of the University of Missouri - St. Louis and in recent years has received as much as 25 percent of its funding from the school. In 2008 a Riverfront Times' investigation into station management and questionable finances at KWMU led to the firing of general manager Patty Wente.

Hieken's lawsuit suggests that the specter of Wente's tenure remains an issue at the station.

Sherry Hieken -
Sherry Hieken
Hieken claims that Wente had recommended her for a promotion before leaving and that current GM, Tim Eby, has failed to come through on that advancement since coming aboard in January 2009.

According to the lawsuit, in April of last year Eby accused Hieken of attempting to cover up two loans by Wente and told her that the University of Missouri system wanted to fire her. Yet, per the lawsuit, UM officials and station management already knew about the loans so they should not have been an issue.

Tim Eby could not immediately be reached for comment. Neither could Hieken's attorney, Matt Ghio, who happens to be married to a former KWMU employee, Laurie Swartz, who in 2005 blew the whistle on questionable fund-raising practices under Wente's management. (For more on that, see "Grandmas and Pledge Drives" in the 2008 RFT article Radio Active.)

Hieken's lawsuit, which asks for a minimum of $20,000, was filed February 4 in St. Louis County Court. More information as it becomes available.

Update: Speaking on behalf of Eby and the University of Missouri, UMSL spokesman Bob Samples tells Daily RFT:
We have been notified of the lawsuit. It is our policy to decline comment on pending litigation and specific personnel issues. I can say, however, the University of Missouri - St. Louis is proud of its record of treating employees equitably and will defend its position rigorously.

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