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BRIDGES v. PITTSBURGH COMMUNITY BROADCASTING CORP.

June 27, 1980

FLORENCE BRIDGES Plaintiff
v.
PITTSBURGH COMMUNITY BROADCASTING CORPORATION, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, DAVID ALBRECHT, et al. Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

FINDINGS AND OPINION

In this pro se civil rights action, Plaintiff alleges violation of her First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and of Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and seeks to enjoin the Defendants from denying her access to and use of the facilities at the Defendants' broadcasting station.

 Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corporation (Corporation), a Pennsylvania, non-profit corporation, owns and operates WYEP, 91.5 FM (Station), a non-commercial educational FM broadcast station licensed by the FCC. Under the Articles of Incorporation, the Corporation's purpose is to establish and operate exclusively for educational purposes one or more non-commercial, educational broadcasting stations. The broadcasting facilities are manned by Corporation members, generally on a volunteer basis. Under corporate by-laws there are two types of members subscribing members, those giving monetary gifts to the Corporation during the year, and working members, those contributing at least five hours of service per month. In a promotional circular the station claims to have approximately 2,000 financial supporters, a paid staff of nine, and a volunteer staff of over 100.

 The Station bills itself as providing the metropolitan Pittsburgh area with "quality instructional programming as a means of stimulating general education", "news and public affairs presentations as a forum for opinion and the balanced discussion of issues, and a variety of music and drama as a source of cultural enrichment." Particularly as to its news and public affairs presentations, the Corporation claimed to provide "an accessible forum for all segments of the community to present and debate issues of local and national concern."

 The Station's policy, as described in its monthly "Program Guide," was one of public access programming created by local citizens to present local issues and culture, with the airwaves available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The Guide further states "It is contrary to WYEP's access policy to refuse to accept requests or phone calls. WYEP must remain open to all suggestions all the time." The Station's policy was, in fact, to actively seek out opposing view points on any issue. Furthermore, in a promotional circular, the Station indicated its need for program gathering volunteers producers of news and public affairs reports, producers of music specials, "citizen reporters" and researcher and air staff personnel to maintain high quality service.

 Florence Bridges joined the Station in August, 1974, as a volunteer worker. From 1974 through 1975 and again from 1976 through 1979, she produced shows and assisted others in producing shows, generally on community affairs. However, Bridges' relationship with the Station, specifically with the Board of Directors, was less than harmonious. In June and July 1978, Bridges filed petitions with the FCC requesting denial of the Corporation's license renewal application. The reasons for the request included alleged failures to follow the Corporate by-laws and to meet the goals of noncommercial educational radio broadcasting. But the main thrust of her petition was alleged racial discrimination in the treatment of black members, e.g., arbitrary enforcement of regulations, discouraging or refusing programming produced by blacks, etc. By letter dated October 5, 1978, the FCC dismissed Bridges' request stating that the charges were too broad and the statistics she provided rebutted her charges.

 In a letter dated August 20, 1979, the Board of Directors informed Bridges that her presence was "no longer desired or welcomed." In addition, she could not host, announce, direct or produce a program on or for the Station. She was instructed not to enter the Station's premises, as entry would be considered an act of trespass. Copies of the letter were furnished to a local magistrate and the Pittsburgh Police Department. A notice to the same effect was posted at the station requesting any staff member or volunteer who witnessed Bridges entering the station to contact one of the members of the Board of Directors.

 Bridges promptly filed suit against the Corporation and the Directors individually in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court requesting injunctive relief from the "banning order issued by the Board of Directors." Plaintiff's complaint recited her history of service with the station, which she claimed, in effect, entitled her to a due process hearing before such banning order could issue. She further claimed that the order infringed on her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

 On October 10, 1979, Judge McGowan of the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, ordered the Defendants to provide Plaintiff a hearing with notice specifying charges against her, and with the right to be present, to confront and cross examine witnesses and to present evidence on her own behalf.

 While the state court action was pending before Judge McGowan, Bridges filed the present federal action on September 20, 1979, styled "Injunctive Relief against Discrimination in Places of Public Accommodation." In the complaint, she alleged that the Board action deprived her of corporate privileges, trampled her right of freedom of speech, limited her freedom of mobility and generally violated her First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and her rights under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 At the hearing, Bridges professed ignorance as to the reasons for the Board's actions. The details of the uneasy relationship between Bridges and the Corporation were brought out by John Zagaro, acting President of the Board of Directors. According to Zagaro, Bridges was unsatisfied with the management and operation of the Station, alleging racism and sexism. Attempts to resolve her complaints through discussion disintegrated into shouting matches. There were bitter confrontations between Bridges and other staff personnel, e.g., the Program Director, about programming decisions and enforcement of station regulations. (e.g., Bridges would smoke in the control room though warned not to; Bridges claimed others smoked there and no complaints were raised). Bridges apparently took her battles beyond the Board meetings, as Zagaro claimed she harassed members of the Board of Directors with early morning phone calls and discouraged other blacks from participating at the Station. William Askin, Program Director, added that Bridges refused to cooperate on the use of the facilities, disrupting other programming. The decision was also prompted by, in Zagaro's terms, Bridges' "unreasonable and duplicative" suits filed against the Corporation.


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