When she was hired as general manager of KPFK (90.7 FM), Eva Georgia appeared to be a walking trophy of progressive brownie points: a black lesbian with an almost cinematic personal story of facing persecution as a leftist radio activist in South Africa. In the summer of 2002, after highly charged internal struggles at KPFK’s parent network, Pacifica — firings, lawsuits, listener rebellions — Georgia told the Los Angeles Times she would run the station by respecting the “process of democracy and transparency.”
But by the fall of 2002, Georgia’s staffers were in open revolt, claiming that democracy and transparency were functionally absent at KPFK. Staffers began circulating letters and articles on the Internet claiming that the working atmosphere at the station under Georgia had become abusive and excessively hierarchical. L.A. IndyMedia, a Web site that touts its support for “global struggles against exploitation,” published an article slamming Georgia with the headline “A Liar . . . A Cheater . . . Physically Abusive.”
That same month, a letter signed by 36 KPFK staffers and supporters stated, “There is no workplace democracy left at KPFK.” Activists also began investigating and calling into question Georgia’s accounts of her radio work in South Africa, pointing out that shortly before she started her job, allegations of embezzlement surfaced against her from a radio station she had worked for there.
And now, four years later, Georgia is being sued by her own news director, and the behind-the-scenes drama is heightened by the fact that Georgia, who is gay, black and an African immigrant, is being sued for sexual harassment and racial discrimination by news director Molly Paige, a straight, white woman.
The suit has created a politically correct Catch-22, with Georgia saying she is under attack because she is an “out-gay, black woman” and Paige charging that the supposedly progressive radio station is rife with anti-white sentiment.
Paige’s lengthy complaint against Georgia, the Pacifica network and other employees lays out an alleged pattern of salacious sexual and racial intimidation. Paige says Georgia has caressed her hair inappropriately, suggested she try lesbian sex, and tried to coax her into a hotel room during a business trip, “making not so subtle remarks of a quid pro quo nature in order to force [Paige] to submit to Georgia’s sexual advances.”
When Paige complained to upper management at Pacifica headquarters in Berkeley, the suit says, Georgia retaliated, increasing her harassment. “Georgia immediately began a campaign in order to coerce and intimidate people at the station to ‘back her,’ ” the suit says.
The suit also says Paige was frequently disparaged in the station by Georgia and others for not being a person of color. She claims she was referred to as “white woman,” and was subjected to such statements as “I hate working with gringos,” “We don’t want to give Anglos credit for anything” and “Stupid white people.”
When reached by phone, Georgia said she was prepared to fight the accusations in court. “The only comment I would be comfortable making is to say that I have requested Pacifica to defend the case rather than to settle,” Georgia told the L.A. Weekly.
Pacifica executive director Greg Guma — who replaced Dan Coughlin, the executive director involved in Georgia’s hiring — could not be reached. Dan Siegel, the often combative leftist Oakland lawyer representing Pacifica and Georgia, released a statement that said Pacifica sought to settle with Paige, but the efforts were unsuccessful. The company is now ready to “vigorously defend itself” against Paige’s suit, Siegel’s statement says.
While she sues her boss and employer, Paige continues to prepare the weekday evening newscast on KPFK, where she’s worked since 2005. One can only imagine how awkward the working environment must now be at the nondescript brick building off the Cahuenga Pass where the radio station is housed. Paige says she’s been given another supervisor as the case goes forward, but her new boss must still ultimately answer to Eva Georgia.
“I tried to resolve this so many times before I made my complaint, but it was unresolved,” Paige says. “There’s retaliation like I’ve never, never seen, and it goes unchecked.”
Paige adds that when she initially made the complaint internally with Pacifica higher-ups, Eva Georgia herself handled the Pacifica investigation of the allegations — against her. Paige also said that when reviewing her complaint, Pacifica spoke to all the other players named before interviewing her. “That’s obvious intimidation,” says Paige. Laughing in disbelief, she says, “There was never an impartial investigation done. I’m the one making the complaint, and I was the last person they talked to.”
In its statement on the Paige suit, Pacifica said it remains open to the possibility of settling out of court. For some KPFK staffers and programmers, this is not a more appealing prospect than seeing the potentially embarrassing case go to a jury trial. In either scenario, they say, the listeners will have to foot the bill.
“Programmers are wary of the financial costs of this lawsuit to our station,” says one programmer, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “It is we who have to convince listeners to part with their hard-earned cash to finance the station. We’re worried about how we may have to explain this on the air. Plus, I’m sure staff are worried about the danger of job cuts, which may be inevitable when unbudgeted money is spent.”
Siegel admitted that any settlement or fees related to the Paige suit would have to come from listener donations, because Pacifica stations are listener-supported. The network, for instance, spent $255,000 settling a recent sexual-harassment case at its KPFA station in Berkeley, Siegel says. “Obviously, we want to spend our money doing radio rather than involved in litigation.”
KPFK news reporter Page Getz says the staff is fuming that listeners have so far been kept in the dark. “I think if our listeners knew what was going on here, they’d be up in arms,” she says. “Those are people who give money every fund drive. I used to give money, and if they knew what was going on, they’d never give money. They’d be picketing in the parking lot.”
As if emphasizing the poisonous atmosphere at the station, Getz, who is supervised by Paige, then interrupted herself to tell the Weekly, “I’ve just gotten a note from behind that says, ‘Don’t say anything that could get us sued for slander.’ ”
Since the filing of Paige’s suit on February 2 in L.A. Superior Court, the complaint has been circulating on Internet message boards, where some posters are drawing attention to Georgia’s history of work-related conflicts at a gay-and-lesbian community center in Long Beach and at the radio stations where she worked in South Africa.
One former KPFK staffer fired by Georgia, Esther Manilla, tells the Weekly that Georgia also sexually harassed her. Manilla alleged that Georgia would inappropriately touch her and comment on her clothing. Manilla recalled one appointment in Georgia’s office when the station manager, she claims, “laid down on the couch in a very suggestive manner. I was sitting in a chair, and she kept saying, ‘Come closer.’ My hair fell in my face, and she reached over and grabbed the strand of it and put it behind my ear. She crossed the line with that.”
Manilla was fired by Georgia in a dispute over a financial transaction, was reinstated following staff protests and eventually moved to San Francisco.
“I never brought it up because, for one, no one was in the room, and I quickly thought no one would believe me,” Manilla says of the alleged incident with Georgia.
Georgia referred all questions about allegations not related to the Paige lawsuit to Siegel, who was away from his office. “Character assassination has been used throughout history and is very effective to destroy the good work someone does,” Georgia stated via e-mail. “You have to ask yourself, what is buried beneath it especially when the accused is an out-gay, black woman. That is it from me.”
The comment resonated, in a roundabout way, with a longtime Pacifica and KPFK activist not tied to the current conflicts or familiar with the Paige suit. The activist, who asked not to be named, says Georgia is skilled at using her status as an African immigrant and gay woman of color to strategic benefit. Says the activist, “She’s very good at using that.”