Cumulus Intern Abuse Allegations

The charmed career of Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey may have hit a big bump in the road.

Several current and former Cumulus employees have told Robert Ottinger, the attorney leading a separate employment class action suit against Cumulus for what Ottinger terms “internship abuses”.

Ottinger says that the Cumulus internship program is guilty of four violations:

1. The internship program is not similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.

2. The internship experience is not for the benefit of the intern.

3. The interns DO displace regular employees and does not work under the close supervision of existing staff.

4. The employer that provides the training does derive immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.

Even one of the above violations is enough to invalidate the internship program - therefore requiring Cumulus to pay all of its interns for the time they work and any overtime in the opinion of Ottinger, an employment law specialist.

Although a decision has not been made yet to file an action against Cumulus for intern abuse, Ottinger is looking for anyone who has information on the Cumulus internship program. No fees are required to join such an action. (Ottinger can be reached at (866) 571-5010 or

The general complaint is that some interns are not paid for their work and are made to do standard everyday office work assisting in clerical tasks entering information into data bases, filing documents, coordinating events, calling radio promotion contestants and preparing documents for sales managers etc. and answering phones as well as manning the front desk - nothing education or training oriented - just working as employees for free.

Some employees, according to Ottinger, say that Cumulus has hundreds of interns working in these capacities around the country and that they are rarely supervised and are instead told to perform a task and only see managers to get new orders.

If true and a legal action follows, Cumulus would be shut off from presumably firing people to save money only to have unpaid interns pick up the slack.

Ottinger says, “Basically, Cumulus is violating Fact Sheet 71 in many ways and the interns have the right to be paid for their work and are not being paid for the work”. Here is Ottinger’s blog “Know Your Rights to Your Pay” which you may find helpful.

The Dickeys, who are also suing several managers who left their employ, will likely be spending a lot of time and money on court issues this year.

For example, Ottinger’s firm was contacted recently by a Cumulus manager who believes that Cumulus does not pay its female managers as much as it pays its male managers.

She alleges that Cumulus management is male-oriented with few high ranking female managers and those that do exist are paid less then men – that’s the culture at Cumulus, she adds.

According to Ottinger, “….I also spoke to Cumulus salesman who said that he was fired because he was taking time off to care for his aged and sick mother. We get calls all the time from Cumulus people with sad stories. We are working to help them whenever we think we can help.”

Meanwhile, Ottinger is in the midst of a class action suit against Cumulus in California that looks promising for employees who allegedly were not paid for their overtime work. If successful, everyone who was affected by the Cumulus pay policies in effect at the time, will receive compensation even if they were not a part of the suit.

The class action has been moved from State Court to Federal Court in San Francisco.

Cumulus also filed an answer denying any liability.

There is a Case Management Conference set for July 14th that will be the parties first appearance before the federal judge. First, both parties are required to discuss settlement and alternate dispute resolution such as mediation.

Federal court is good for this case which should move along quickly.

Cumulus certainly will have plenty of time to see what is at stake. Usually the parties settle and agree to a gag order that prevents them from discussing the terms of the settlement.

That is, when they have to pay up, Cumulus could then posture like they did nothing wrong, admit nothing even while they pay back wages and other damages a court may find. Nonetheless, lots of Cumulus employees in the California class action could be receiving a late pay day for previous abuses.

Of all the radio consolidators, Cumulus has appeared to wage a holy war against its people. But they are not alone.

Pressing employees while the economy was bad and jobs were hard to find and allegedly forcing them to sign questionable non-competes just to get a few weeks severance pay after they were fired.

While Cumulus is no Bonneville, generally considered the most employee-friendly radio company, it has been very aggressive in clamping down on employees, piling on the work and playing hardball with their careers.

The Dickeys, in my opinion, are seemingly oblivious to the human relations aspects of running a company.

It’s Lew’s way or the highway.

John Dickey is “other” brother who tows the company line.

Gary Pizzati a henchman -- he’s not well liked from what I hear.

I would not be surprised to hear that the Cumulus class action suit got settled in private for millions of dollars while Dickey strikes an Alfred E. Newman “What Me Worry” pose.

I also wouldn't be surprised to see at least one major sexual harassment case against Cumulus – a company some employees think is run like radio’s version of Animal House.

And if enough interns come forward and the case develops, Cumulus could have another embarrassment on their hands.

I’m not even counting the Kristin Okesson case in Bridgeport, CT where Dickey has apparently gotten his feelings hurt because Okesson left him for Cox. He’s suing Okesson, a very capable market manager, good and plenty and she’s uncovering shoddy contractual work by Cumulus that may blow up in the Dickeys faces before the case is settled.

And, while Dickey reaps what he has sowed …

CBS is looking up.

Cox is generating a fast recovery.

Bonneville never missed a beat.

Lincoln Financial is still the most desired company that consolidators would like to get their hands on and ruin.

Saga is posting nice revenues in small to medium markets.

The recession may be ending, but thanks to the stupidity of mean-spirited radio groups, the recovery is in full stride -- for employment attorneys.

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