Man sues over stuttering matter involving radio show

Sunday, January 11, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- A St. Louis man has sued the producers of a syndicated country music radio show, alleging the call-in program would not accept a song dedication for his ex-wife because of his stutter.

Robert Tart's lawsuit, filed Jan. 2 in St. Louis Circuit Court, claims that after his repeated calls to the Seattle-based Lia Show last March, a staff member for the program told him, "We don't do the stutter thing."

"He was embarrassed; that's a given. The question is: Is it actionable?" Tart's attorney, Frederick Hawk, said in pressing the lawsuit.

Tart, 37, is seeking unspecified damages from Jones Radio Networks Inc., which has produced the show, and WIL-FM, which carried it in St. Louis for a year but canceled it in April, shortly after Tart complained.

At that time, the station's general manager said WIL had planned to stop airing the show anyway but accelerated the move "because we want to make sure that all of our listeners are treated with respect."

Hawk said issues in the lawsuit were whether stuttering was considered a disability and whether a radio station was considered a "public accommodation" under anti-discrimination law.

Charles Jellinek, the Jones Network's attorney in the case, said the company will challenge Tart's claim that he is owed damages as an alleged discrimination victim.

"We believe the action is without merit and that he has not been damaged," Jellinek said.

Messages were left Friday night with WIL. Last April, the station's news director, Monica Adams, said Tart had gotten onto WIL's own broadcasts a few times and that "his stutter isn't that bad."

"All calls are taped anyway. You do what you can to help make a person sound good," she said at the time.

Before filing his lawsuit, Tart registered a complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission, which took no action but provided Tart a "right to sue" letter.

"It's hard enough to go through life with a stutter, but wanting to get on a radio show takes some courage," Tart said then. "I talk slow, but they're keeping me off that show because of it."

The song Tart wanted Lia to broadcast for his ex-wife in Bloomsdale was Joe Diffie's "In Another World," a wistful memory of lost love.

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