A former KPFA radio employee has filed a sexual discrimination and harassment suit against the station, charging that she was repeatedly harassed by her male supervisor and that station management refused to respond to her complaints and ultimately fired her when she continued to press her concerns.
In a lawsuit filed in March, Noelle Hanrahan, the former producer and co-host of KPFA’s Flashpoints News Magazine, charged that the program’s executive producer and co-host Dennis Bernstein sought to drive her off the show and at one point told her, “I’m going torture you until you quit or I force you to leave.”
The complaint alleges that as the abuse worsened, then-General Manager Jim Bennett refused to investigate Hanrahan’s claims, telling her, “If you file a grievance, it will only get worse.”
He eventually placed her on leave in February 2002 and seven months later terminated her, according to the complaint.
Bernstein and Bennett could not be reached for comment.
Current KPFA General Manager Roy Campanella II said station policy prevented him from discussing the lawsuit.
Bernstein, an investigative reporter, poet, Palestinian activist, and longtime KPFA producer, has been hit by other allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment, according to the complaint. Last week, another female producer at Flashpoints, Solange Echeverria, resigned citing abusive behavior by Bernstein.
“I was forced out ... I reported unfair treatment, favoritism, abuse and hostile working conditions on the Flashpoint program ... and I was met with complete disrespect and disregard,” she wrote in an open letter to the KPFA Local Station Board.
Tanya Brannan, of the women’s rights group Purple Berets, said a number of women have been forced from KPFA over the years.
“It’s very difficult for women in public radio to stand up to that kind of harassment,” said Brannan, who has assisted Hanrahan in filing the lawsuit. “There are so few jobs that if you get blacklisted there aren’t many places you can go.”
The lawsuit lists as defendants Bernstein, Bennett, KPFA, and Pacifica, the station’s parent network. It seeks punitive damages for sexual harassment, retaliation, negligent supervision, wrongful termination, and infliction of emotional distress.
Wendy Musell, Hanrahan’s attorney, said her client decided to file suit after KPFA rejected her attempts to regain her job and win lost pay.
The complaint alleges Hanrahan was subjected to Bernstein’s abuse periodically from 1998 through 2002. After Hanrahan complained of Bernstein’s behavior, Pacifica in November 2001 demoted her to host only 40 percent of Flashpoints, according to the suit. Later that month, the complaint alleges that Bernstein interrupted her on the air, urging listeners to call for her removal and to call KPFA management in a show of support for him.
Bernstein received a 10-day suspension for the outburst, according to the lawsuit.
In February 2002, after Hanrahan had reiterated her complaints, the complaint alleges that KPFA changed the locks on the doors so she could not come to work and placed her on involuntary leave. She was fired that September.
Hanrahan, a winner of three public radio awards, now produces the Prison Radio Project, a vehicle that often airs the writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and journalist convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer.