99 JAMZ Host Demoted After Reporting Sexual Harassment, Suit Says

Aprille Hinnant thought WEDR 99 JAMZ radio host Maestro Powell was protecting her from "the belly of the beast of the industry," she says. He told her not to talk to anyone else at the station. And don't mention the training, he said. As the program director and main personality of 99 JAMZ's Sunday-morning gospel show, he was grooming her to take over one day.

But then Powell began with the sexual comments, according to a lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Miami. First it was, "I had a dream, you and I were getting married"; then it was, "Your husband isn't man enough" and "He doesn't know what to do with you." On two occasions after that, he tried to kiss her and she had to push him away, she says.

In the suit against Cox Media Group, which owns the South Florida station, Hinnant says the company failed to intervene when she reported the radio host to human resources. Instead, she says, she was removed from the gospel show, barred from her prior tasks, and excluded from most staff meetings and activities. Eventually, she was forced to resign.

The suit claims Hinnant was subjected to sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation, and seeks damages for emotional distress, suffering, and embarrassment. Hinnant also wants to be reinstated to her position and awarded back pay.

Cox Media Group spokesman Andy McDill declined to comment on the case, telling New Times the Atlanta-based company has a policy of not commenting on employee issues or impending litigation. 

According to the lawsuit, Hinnant began working in promotions for 99 JAMZ in May 2010. She cohosted the Sunday-morning show, organized giveaways, prepared station events, and managed expense reports, among other duties. 

She was told the company wanted her to take over the show hosted by Maestro Powell, who is identified in the lawsuit only by his last name and the show he hosts. He told her that he was the only person who could train her. About six months in, he began making advances toward her, the suit says. (Powell, a veteran employee of 99 JAMZ, did not respond to an email from New Times seeking comment.)

Hinnant made it clear she was disgusted by Powell's actions, the suit says, and began asking co-workers to accompany her when she was around him. The comments continued. She was afraid to go to HR but in March confided in the station's general manager, who had known her since she was a child. The manager involved HR.

The suit says Hinnant's removal from the gospel show came after she met with HR, as Powell remained her supervisor and created an increasingly hostile work environment. When she was given projects by other station employees, Powell blocked her from working on them, "making her look like a bad employee."

After nearly two years of being "harassed and isolated," Hinnant emailed an HR official about the situation, asking for the opportunity to grow and become a "vital team player to the Cox family."

"Every opportunity was taken away from me since March 2011 after our meeting," she wrote.

That email didn't improve things, so Hinnant filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which considered the case and allowed her to sue. She was then demoted to a "no-name position" and assigned to creating files, filling in for the receptionist, stuffing envelopes, and checking messages. She was forced to resign in April 2014 because of stress and concerns for her health, the suit says. 

When Hinnant looks back on her early days at 99 JAMZ, when she thought Powell was looking out for her, the suit says, she "now knows she was being naive."
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas