Journalist sues former boss for firing over e-mail about same-sex marriage

Posted Feb. 28, 2011, at 1:35 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 28, 2011, at 6:43 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Larry Grard, an 18-year veteran reporter at the Morning Sentinel newspaper fired in November 2009 after his employer discovered that he responded to an e-mail from an organization that favored same-sex marriage, has sued MaineToday Media in U.S. District Court.

Grard, 60, of Winslow claims in a complaint filed Feb. 22 that the Portland-based company, which owns the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Portland Press Herald, violated the federal Civil Rights Act and the Maine Human Rights Act when it fired him 15 months ago. Grard, a Roman Catholic, alleges that the company discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs and fired him in retaliation for complaining about his treatment to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The commission did not rule on the former reporter’s complaint but issued a right-to-sue letter in November 2010. Grard is seeking back pay and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Grard said in April http://new.bangordailynews.com/2010/04/05/news/bangor/fired-maine-reporter-gains-religious-aid/ that as a Christian, he was offended by some of the rhetoric contained in an e-mail from the Human Rights Campaign of Washington, D.C., that blamed the outcome of Maine’s Nov. 3, 2009, same-sex marriage vote on hatred of gays. Using his private e-mail account while at work, Grard, who has said he thought the e-mail would be anonymous, responded: “Who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the Yes on 1 crowd. You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!”

Grard was fired a week later, according to the complaint.

Richard Connor, head of MaineToday Media, last April referred to a statement released in  December 2009 in which he denied that Grard’s firing had anything to do with his beliefs about same-sex marriage.

“Mr. Grard’s admitted improper and unacceptable conduct, lack of judgment and associated behavior constituted a serious breach of the legitimate employee and journalistic expectations of company management,” the letter read.

In his lawsuit, Grard claimed that he had spoken to his superiors about what he considered to be the paper’s slanted coverage of the gay marriage issue. The complaint also alleges that “negative comments about religion in general, and Christianity in particular, were not uncommon in the defendant’s newsroom.”

Grard garnered support last April from the Catholic League of New York, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, and the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission of California. Both are contributing to his legal defense, according to a story published in the Bangor Daily News in April.

Attorneys for MaineToday Media have 21 days after they are served with the complaint to file an answer to it in federal court in Bangor.

Efforts to reach the out-of-state attorneys representing the company were unsuccessful Monday.

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