A former GM of Baltimore public radio station WEAA has alleged in a lawsuit that the station’s licensee, Morgan State University, misreported expenses to CPB to increase its funding.
In her suit, filed April 26 in Baltimore City Circuit Court, Michele Williams said that Morgan State fired her in May 2017 when she raised concerns about the misreported costs. She seeks $2 million in a wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit against the university and her former supervisor, DeWayne Wickham.
The suit, first reported on by Courthouse News Service, claims that in late 2016 Williams became aware of “serious discrepancies” between WEAA’s actual expenses and figures reported by the university to CPB and the state of Maryland. Expenses at the station were about $750,000 per year, the suit said, but Morgan State reported operating expenses for WEAA of upwards of $1.9 million in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
In 2016, Williams complained to Wickham, dean of the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State, that operating expenses were being “intentionally inflated to pad the University’s funding,” the suit said. She also made “repeated complaints” to the university’s upper management and financial executives about the misreporting.
Williams again complained in 2017 about misreporting and told Wickham and others at the university that she would blow the whistle. “Rather than have Plaintiff raise issues about [sic] to CPB or the State of Maryland, Defendant made the decision to terminate Plaintiff,” the suit said. The timing of her termination prevented her from participating in preparing financial documents for the fiscal year, according to the suit.
A WEAA spokesperson declined to comment, citing a university policy of not commenting on pending litigation. Wickham did not respond to a request for comment. A CPB spokesperson also declined to comment.
The suit also accuses Wickham of sending Williams “threatening” text messages and emails during a disagreement about WEAA’s airing of a 2016 mayoral debate. Wickham told Williams to cancel a mayoral debate because the Democratic candidate could not attend, despite an offer to give candidates who could not attend a later on-air interview. After Williams scheduled on-air interviews with Republican and Green party candidates, Wickham sent her messages and emails warning her that her “actions would … ‘not end well’ for her.”
“Dean Wickham was attempting to influence the course of public debate in the Baltimore Mayoral candidate race by requiring Plaintiff treat the Democratic candidate differently than other party’s candidates,” the suit said.
And Williams accused Wickham of defamation due to false statements about “expenditures within the radio station that were not actually made – which led Plaintiff to ultimately be terminated.”