The story behind daytime personality Maggie Fuller’s departure from WNIR (100.1-FM) is now part of the public record. And quite a record it is, including a raw insult of Fuller attributed to WNIR host John “Couchburner” Denning and what a state agency deemed a poor response to the situation by station management.
More legal action may be coming.
According to a Dec. 6 decision on Fuller’s application for unemployment benefits, Fuller had “just cause” to quit the station and therefore to receive benefits. The decision overturned an earlier ruling that she did not have just cause for quitting. The latest decision, by Kevin Thornton of the Ohio Unemployment Compensation Review Commission, concluded:
“A coworker of claimant [Fuller] unleashed an obscenity laced tirade against her at a station sponsored party at a country club. … [T]he employer conducted no investigation into the matter, other than getting a statement from the coworker, even though they could easily have spoken to the management of the country club and the morning host [Stan Piatt], who hosted the party.”
The decision said failure to investigate and to discipline Denning showed the station did not take his conduct seriously and also faulted WNIR management’s “failure to discipline the coworker in a meaningful manner for his despicable behavior.”
WNIR did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Bringing up old dispute
The commission’s decision further stated that these events began Aug. 29 when then-WNIR morning host Piatt was hosting a weekly patio party at Roses Run Country Club in Stow. At the party, Denning approached Pam Darkow, a regular listener to the station, the commission decision said. Denning brought up an old dispute with Darkow over his writing about her on Wikipedia. Denning asked Darkow who had told her what he had done. She said it was Fuller.
Denning began to rant about Fuller, who was not present, the decision said. He called Fuller a liar and referred to Fuller with a notoriously crude anatomical reference. Piatt attempted to quiet Denning but Denning continued to use the anatomical insult about Fuller.
Word of the incident spread. Among those hearing about it was Mike Conley, a local comedian and circulation dispatch supervisor for the Beacon Journal.
On Sept. 2, he emailed the details to WNIR station manager Bill Klaus and his brother, Bob, the general sales manager.
In an interview, Conley said he did not receive a reply from the Klauses. The decision says that Denning “called Bob Klaus and told him that what had happened did not occur as Mr. Conley’s e-mail indicated.” Conley said he also received an email from Denning, and it told the comedian he should know a joke when he heard it.
Conley had applied for the WNIR hosting job Denning received in 2012, succeeding the late Howie Chizek. But Conley maintained that his note to the Klauses was not sour grapes.
“I have nothing against that radio station,” he said. “I have nothing against Mr. Denning.”
By Sept. 5 or 6, according to the decision, Fuller heard about the incident at the party. She was so angry, she said in an interview, that she waited until Sept. 11 before bringing it up with station management.
On Sept. 12, she met with both Bob and Bill Klaus. Bob Klaus told her that they had talked to Denning and the incident “never happened,” according to the decision and an interview with Fuller. She offered to provide witnesses. The Klauses, the decision said, did not want to talk to the witnesses. They refused Fuller’s request that Denning sign a letter promising not to use language like that allegedy used at Roses Run in any work-related setting. She was told there would be no further action taken.
Fuller ended more than 14½ years with the station on Sept. 17. Piatt left the same day, unhappy with the way his announced retirement was being handled. In October, the station hired Chris Fox and Angela Bellios as new morning personalities.
The commission’s decision was based on a hearing by telephone that included Fuller, Bill Klaus, their respective attorneys and Darkow.
There were also four signed letters from witnesses to the Roses Run incident, including one by Piatt, Fuller said. The compensation case now goes to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services “to determine claimant’s monetary entitlement and any charges to the … employers.” WNIR has until Dec. 27 to appeal.
But Fuller is not done with WNIR. “I’m going after them,” she said. “I’m not going to take this laying down.” She and her attorney plan to contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
WNIR “handled this very badly,” she said. “This really could have been cleaned up with a simple apology and a promise letter saying it would never happen again.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal, in the HeldenFiles Online blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles, on Facebook and on Twitter @rheldenfels. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.