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Former Star columnist suing newspaper

April 29, 2010

A former columnist for The Indianapolis Star who was dismissed from her job is suing the newspaper for age discrimination.

Susan J. Guyett filed her lawsuit in a federal court in Indianapolis on Monday after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gave its support for her to sue.

Guyett, 61, filed a charge of discrimination with the agency in May 2009 following her dismissal in December 2008. She had been employed at the newspaper since November 2000.

Guyett, who wrote the “Talk of Our Town” column, said in the lawsuit that her position was eliminated as part of a “cost-cutting measure.”

The content and concept of the feature remained the same, however, after the column was assigned to another reporter, the lawsuit said.

The Star and its owner, Virginia-based Gannett Co. Inc., are named in the complaint. Editor Dennis Ryerson did not return phone calls seeking comment.

“Defendants discriminated against Guyett on the basis of her age by terminating her employment because of her age and replacing her with a younger staff member, under the age of 40, to write the same column that Guyett had written for years,” the suit alleges.

Guyett is seeking to recover back pay as well as damages for lost future earnings, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.

This is not the first discrimination case the Star has faced from former employees.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the newspaper in December after finding that two former editorial writers failed to prove they were the victims of religious discrimination

James Patterson and Lisa M. Coffey claimed their former employer engaged in systematic discrimination against “traditional Christians” who believe homosexual conduct is a sin. They said the Star’s top editors opposed public expression of religion in the work place and discriminated against those who opposed homosexual conduct because of their religion. Patterson and Coffey also argued the paper “softened” its views on homosexuality once Ryerson became the editor.

A district court initially ruled against Patterson and Coffey. In the ruling from the Circuit Court of Appeals, judges noted that they accepted the Star’s version of the facts, just as the district court did.

Guyett’s complaint, meanwhile, contends the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild filed a grievance on behalf of her and several other members of the union, alleging their terminations breached seniority requirements.

The guild agreed to a settlement in which the Star and Gannett paid a small sum of money to satisfy the grievance. Guyett, though, did not consent to the settlement, the suit said.



In a separate matter, the guild on April 19 filed a grievance against the newspaper over the outsourcing of work that it claims violates the union contract.

The complaint involves the Star’s use of baseball content produced by USA Today, which also is owned by Gannett. The work had been performed by page designers and copy editors represented by the guild.

“The Guild must step in and defend our jobs—otherwise ‘free’ and pre-produced copy makes its way into the paper,” a notice about the grievance said.

It cited as an example the News From You feature that allows readers to submit stories from the suburbs.

Outside Indianapolis, a decision by Gannett to allow an employee of the New Jersey Devils to provide coverage of the hockey team for six of its newspapers in the state is raising plenty of ethics questions.

The New York Times said the arrangement may be a coup for the hockey team, but it “puts the papers in the odd position of publishing news coverage supplied by the entity being covered.”

The Indianapolis-based Society of Professional Journalists agreed in a press release issued Tuesday.

“Economically squeezed journalists might seek more efficient ways to cover news, but ceding journalistic duties to newsmakers and giving space to what could be seen as glorified press releases is a poor choice,” SPJ said. “It cheapens journalism.”
 

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