Since November 1982, Philadelphia radio listeners have enjoyed the on-air antics and companionship of John DeBella.
A legend in the Delaware Valley, DeBella had been associated with Rocker WMMR-FM 93.3 and the former WYSP-FM 94.1 before joining Classic Rock WMGK-FM 102.9 in the Cradle of Liberty in March 2002 under former owner Greater Media.
On February 16, DeBella and his current employer, Beasley Media Group, were slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former co-host who first appeared on-air with him as a traffic reporter employed by iHeart-owned Total Traffic & Weather Network — named as a co-defendant.
On Friday, July 13, the case was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Wendy Beetlestone. A settlement has been reached.
The accuser in this civil case brought against Beasley, iHeart, TTWN and DeBella himself is Jennifer Neill, who used her maiden name “Jen Posner” on WMGK — first as a traffic reporter brought on in 2002 and then as a morning co-host in 2010. Under this arrangement, TTWN subcontracted Neill to Beasley.
The case was filed under Employment Civil Rights. Neill demanded a jury trial, plus financial compensation of greater than $75,000.
The “Cause of Action”? Neill alleged sex discrimination and retaliation.
Serving as Neill’s attorney is Caren Gurmankin of Philadelphia-based law firm Console Mattiacci Law LLC.
In the Complaint, Gurmankin alleged that Neill “was subjected to egregious, gross, and degrading sex-based harassment” by DeBella. This included grabbing her breasts, pressing his genitals against her body, grabbing her hand and rubbing his genitals, asking for oral sex, showing her a sexually explicit image, and “other extremely harassing conduct.”
In one instance, Gurmankin implicated Beasley/Philadelphia Human Resources Director Cynthia Lucas, who allegedly saw one instance of improper conduct and “threw her hands up in the air, [and] said, ‘I don’t see anything'” before turning and walking away.
Other instances include repeated requests for a “blow job” from Neill. DeBella is also alleged to have commented when Neill cut her hair into a very short hairstyle, telling Neill that she was much more “f–kable” with short hair.
Several other lurid accusations were included in the court filing.
Neill filed a first complaint in September 2016 to the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission. A Second Complaint was filed in November 2016. Then, a Second Amended Complaint was filed in March 2017; this was cross-filed with the EEOC.
Then, in November 2017, the EEOC issued to Neill a “Notice of Right to Sue for her Charge of Discrimination.”
The defendants — Beasley, TTWN and iHeart — conducted an “investigation” that resulted in no action, Gurmankin claims.
Gurmankin then says the defendants retaliated against Neill, aged 42, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While TTWN subcontracted Neill to Greater Media and, following its merger acquisition by Beasley, to the Naples, Fla.-based broadcast company, “since around January 2014” she had reporting relationships to not only TTWN Director of Operations Charles Weirauch but also to DeBella and to WMGK Program Director Bill Weston.
The relationship was codified in May 2016, when Neill agreed to a new contract with TTWN through the end of the year. Then, on Jan. 1, 2017, she reportedly entered into a contract with Greater Media—a month after it agreed to the Beasley M&A deal and after returning to work Sept. 21, 2016 after being told to refrain from reporting on Sept. 20.
That return lasted a day: After the morning show, Neill reportedly broke down and noted that it was too difficult for her to work; she was placed on a leave of absence.
The defendants later told Neill that DeBella denied many of the allegations, and that many of the jokes were “mutual.” Further, Neill’s attorney states that she was never told of any disciplinary action against DeBella.
With that, the “investigation” was completed and Neill was asked to return to work the following day — or resign. With Neill’s reservations against such a scenario, the defendants gave her one other option that she ultimately selected. This saw her return to work Nov. 6, 2016, in the role once again of a traffic reporter. This was a “substantial demotion,” Gurmankin says.
With no action against DeBella, and due to the circumstances outlined in her complaints, she notified the defendants via an e-mail that she would no longer to work with WMGK. Her last day was Jan. 6, 2017.
Neill and DeBella each have respective spouses; this was noted in an instance where DeBella told Neill they would need to share a hotel room on a possible station-sponsored trip to London to cut down on expenses, allegedly saying, “when we’re overseas, we’re not married” to their respective spouses.
DeBella first emerged as a star radio personality in Philadelphia after a run in mornings at WPEZ-FM 94.5 in Philadelphia, which began in February 1980. For four years before that, he was a production director at heralded “new wave” station WLIR-FM 92.7 in Garden City, N.Y., in Nassau County.
Terms of the settlement were not publicly disclosed.