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Portland Radio Character Sues Over Employment Discrimination Allegations

The Portland Radio Company and its parent corporation, Saga Communications of Michigan were recently hit with a lawsuit by a former employee over wrongful termination allegations.

Randi Kirshbaum, a radio personality based in Portland, recently filed two employment discrimination complaints against Portland Radio Company and its parent corporation, Saga Communications of Michigan. According to her complaint, Kirshbaum was terminated “from her job because of her age, a pre-existing medical condition, and her employer’s refusal to make an accommodation for her to work from home rather than return to the office, where she faced a greater risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.”

Image by Brian Turner/Flickr. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-2.0)

When commenting on the case, David G. Webbert noted that similar cases have been filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the EEOC. According to the complaint, Kirshbaum spent 38 years working for the Portland Radio Group “as program manager for WCLZ and Coast 93.1, and was an on-air host for WCLZ and country station WPOR.” Suffice it to say, she had many years under her belt working on Portland’s airwaves. Unfortunately for her, she was “fired in May during an online meeting with officials from Saga Communications.”

It’s important to note that, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, Kirshbaum has spent much of the year working remotely from her Scarborough home, “doing her shows from there and managing other station staff members.” At the recommendation of her physician, Kirshbaum “requested to work remotely” due to the pandemic. According to the suit, Kirshbaum “has a genetic medical condition that could be triggered by respiratory ailments like COVID-19.”

During an interview over the matter earlier this year, Kirshbaum said:

“They decided for some inexplicable reason that I needed to come back, even though I’ve been able to do everything I need to do from home…It was shocking, because this (pandemic) is a fluid situation. Two weeks from now, it could all be different.”

When pressed about why Kirshbaum was terminated, Chris Forgy, the senior vice president of operations at Saga said in an interview that “she was let go because she did not follow the terms she agreed to for working remotely.”

According to Forgy, when Kirshbaum began working remotely, she “agreed that her situation would be assessed every two weeks to see if the arrangement was working and that it would be Saga’s decision as to when Kirshbaum should come back to work.” When she didn’t return to the office and continued to work remotely, the company “placed her on layoff.” Forgy said:

“She’s completely uncomfortable coming back to the office, and it’s virtually impossible for her to be a supervisor and not come back…We need to have leadership in the building.”

Kirshbaum, according to Webbert, is 66-years-old and is in a high-risk category for “dying or suffering serious injury from COVID-19.” In her complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission, Kirshbaum said:

“Despite my very favorable performance reviews and the strong support and loyalty of our listeners, I was abruptly fired from my job of 38 years when I refused to defy my doctor’s orders and risk my life by appearing in-person at work in the midst of this deadly global pandemic…Instead of providing the obviously reasonable accommodation of allowing me to continue performing my job remotely for a discrete period of time – something I had already proved more than capable of doing over a six-week trial period – my employer issued an ultimatum and fired me when I would not immediately return to work in the office…In terminating my employment, Saga unlawfully retaliated against me for requesting and taking a reasonable accommodation for my disability.”

For now, the MHRC and EEOC will conduct an investigation, and once it is completed, “or once 180 days have passed, Kirshbaum will have the ability to sue in court on her legal claims.”

Sources:

Portland radio personality files employment discrimination complaints

Longtime Portland radio host files employment discrimination claims against former employer

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