Stella Case No. 108, Originally Published: 17 May 2006
Frank Turner was a star anchorman on WXYZ-TV Channel 7 in Detroit, Mich. While he enjoyed being at the top of the ratings, Turner hid a dark secret: he was a cocaine addict. He started on the drug, he said, when he was just 14 years old. Twenty-five years later, it had taken over his life, ignoring his celebrity status and career success. He said he spent as much as $2,000 per week on cocaine.
His troubles came to light in 1998 when he was sued by his fiancée. Michele Grady said she co-signed credit card applications for Turner, after which he ran up a $30,000 debt on the cards — mostly for phone sex calls. When he didn’t pay the cards off, she said, her credit (as co-signer) was ruined.
When he didn’t show up in court to answer her suit, Turner’s assets were seized and he filed for bankruptcy. Not surprisingly, Turner’s and Grady’s personal relationship was shattered beyond repair. And when his employment contract expired around the same time, WXYZ let him go, leaving him to scrape by doing stand-up comedy. (He had guts to do that: he was already a laughing stock in the city.)
A year later, Turner said, he found religion. Being baptized “miraculously, instantaneously and completely” cured his addiction to cocaine — and his depression. He claimed he needed no further treatment. “I don’t knock programs, but I didn’t go to one,” he said. “Instead of 12 steps, I took one step toward Jesus.”
And he enjoyed a career miracle, too: in 2000 he got his job back at WXYZ as a weekend news anchor. In late 2001 he was promoted to anchor the daily 5:00 p.m. news broadcast. “I’m real proud of him,” said WXYZ station General Manager Grace Gilchrist after his comeback. “I always knew he was an extremely intelligent person. He’s one of the brightest people we have here.”
Of course, news that he made a comeback thanks to his newfound religious faith made the rounds in area churches, too. He was invited to speak to church congregations about his conversion, his comeback from drugs, his rebounded career. He even talked about his religion on the air during his commentary segment, presenting “the gospel message in the last place anyone would expect,” he said — the evening news.
“I love that news gives me the ability to interact with millions of people every day,” Turner says on WXYZ’s web site. “And I love being an advocate for fairness and justice.”
Turner, now 46, started doing radio shows too, to expand his spreading of the gospel. But when he wanted to expand the shows to daily appearances, WXYZ-TV put its foot down. His anchorman contract with the TV station calls for an exclusive on his services as a broadcaster, and daily shows crossed the line; it was essentially a request to take a second, full-time job in broadcasting.
“We spend millions of dollars a year promoting our on-air talent and we want to have them working exclusively for Channel 7,” said Gilchrist, the station manager. The station denied his request to have a second job in broadcasting while still on the air for WXYZ.
“I cannot ignore this call of God in my life,” Turner said. “It is the sole reason I have a life.” He demands that the station accommodate him. And that’s a key word there: accommodation. Citing the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination, Turner says by law the station must allow a “reasonable accommodation” for his religion — and it’s a “reasonable” request that they allow him to take another broadcasting job while he also works for them; it’s “reasonable” for them to make an exception in the exclusivity clause of his contract and use the celebrity status they’re paying for to foster his second career.
To that end, with the help of attorney Jeffrey D. Wilson, Turner has filed a formal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that the station is violating his civil rights by not allowing him to take a second broadcasting job, despite the fact that he signed a contract allowing them to do just that. And presumably, part of his pay from WXYZ is to compensate him for that clause. But because his second job is proselytizing, it becomes a religious issue in his mind, not an employment issue, allowing him to invoke the Civil Rights Act.
To be sure, the station is not keeping Turner from practicing his religion; it even allows him to “present the gospel message” during news broadcasts! It would be abhorrent to, say, prohibit Turner from working at the station at all because he’s “born again,” and that clearly would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act. But that’s not what’s happening. He’s stretching that law to demand that the station be forced to make an exception in his contract clause without breaking the contract, so that he will be allowed to continue in his job there. Worse, he’s comparing himself with people who truly are denied their basic civil rights, saying that the denial of the ability to work because of their religion is comparable to his employer enforcing a standard contract provision that he readily agreed to when it gave him his job back.
The station is being more than “reasonable” and “accommodating”; it even lets him use his news commentary air time to “spread the gospel,” proving they have nothing against his religion. But they understandably have something against him splitting his time between two jobs in the same field, capitalizing on the fame they would continue to provide him — something he agreed, in writing, not to do.
All this from a self-proclaimed “advocate for fairness and justice.”
True, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is not a court of law, but it is a government regulatory body which conducts hearings, and the station will have to hire attorneys to plead its case there. Worse, an EEOC complaint is often the first step toward a federal lawsuit; if he doesn’t get what he wants, it’s a likely next step.
Addicts are known for self-destructive, “me-first” narcissistic behavior. It often takes the crisis of “hitting bottom” before they realize the need to reform, then struggle to make amends for past behavior and work hard toward regaining acceptance by society. It’s difficult, and many fail. Turner assumes he has found the answer to all his problems in one easy step, yet at the same time he exhibits a “me-first” narcissistic demand for a loophole in his employment contract, and if he can’t get it he’ll pull in his big brother — a federal agency — to stand behind him until his employer capitulates, with the obvious implied threat of a federal lawsuit waiting in the shadows.
If he wants to go full-time into religious broadcasting, great: he can leave his news job and do it. But to demand that a government tribunal force his current employer to support him in that quest is an outrageous abuse of the law, and belittles those who truly suffer from discrimination in the workplace.
Maybe Turner ought not so readily dismiss the importance of some of the other 11 “steps” away from abuse.
- “TV Anchor’s Choice: God or Channel 7 Job”, Detroit News, 31 March 2006.
- Frank Turner Rejoins Channel 7 News Team”, Detroit News, 18 April 2000.
- “News, Faith and Frank Turner: on the Air Three Times a Day, the WXYZ Anchorman Is Filled with the Spirit 24-7”, Detroit Free Press, 16 May 2004.
- Background info from WXYZtv.com.
I found no update saying what happened with Turner’s lawsuit, so I consider it likely the EEOC dropped the case. But there are plenty of updates about Turner in general. See next section.
My 2022 Thoughts on the Case
In 2009 Turner said it was “a blessing” that he was being evicted from his million-dollar home, since he had stopped paying for it when its value went down, apparently sticking his mortgage lender with the loss. “It’s never been about our inability to pay,” he claimed. “It’s their inability to work with us.” I’ve never seen a bank turn down regular house payments.
In 2021, Turner was working at a TV station in Saginaw, Mich. He claimed to have been “unceremoniously” fired because he didn’t want to be in the studio “unmasked with other colleagues.” He said that “I guess they’d rather not have me at all than accommodate me on the mask in a pandemic.”
The station begged to differ. “WNEM did not terminate Frank Turner,” it said in a statement, and they have “has specific COVID-19 protocols in place developed in consultation with medical experts.” Those include keeping employees six or more feet apart in the studio so they don’t have to wear masks while on camera, but did have to wear masks anytime they were not that far apart. It had also announced a vaccine requirement.
Bottom line: it looks like trouble keeps following Turner, and it seems he brings it upon himself. There have been more than one “second” chances.
Last week’s eHarmony case, which was nothing but harmonious, brought several letters.
Julian in California: “The story misses a very important point. I do NOT believe a lawsuit is warranted here, so in spirit, I agree with you. I found myself single after a couple of bad dating relationships [and] went to E-Harmony. As the guy in your article did, I went through E-Harmony’s incredibly complex and time consuming initial survey. However, a very rude awakening was waiting for me at the very end of this trial: the very last thing asked was my status. Married, but looking was an option, or it might have been labeled ‘separated’. Being honest, I chose that selection, assuming I’d be given the option of explaining my exact, unique situation. The program promptly booted me out. I was angry. Very angry: the survey waited until the VERY LAST QUESTION to ask my status! I can’t think of a single honest and good-faith reason to do that. The lawyer suing is an idiot…but E-Harmony doesn’t come out squeaky clean here.”
Well, I can’t answer for what eHarmony did in the past. Before I wrote up the case, I went to the site. There were two very clear options there: a place to go if you’re single, and a “new service designed to help married couples experience stronger, happier marriages.” In other words, there’s NO dating option for anyone who’s not single. Was that clear when you tried it, and you missed it? I don’t know. Was that clear when the lawyer tried it? No idea. But as I surfed around the eH site looking at details, the word “single” was used over and over.
I find it unlikely that they revamped their entire site to add that word in response to what they surely considered a frivolous lawsuit. It seems to me that it’s smart to check out any business a little before signing up. Had the lawyer done that, I have little doubt he would have easily found that only singles may apply long before he spent any time filling out their lengthy survey, which is clearly advertised as the key to their matching success.
David (no location given): “OK, two guesses why the guy is getting divorced….”
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