By: M.L. Stein
FORMER OAKLAND TRIBUNE editor Christine Lavin said she was fired by her boss, David Burgin, because of her romantic relationship with a city councilman.
She and her attorney said a lawsuit charging wrongful termination and discrimination would be filed against Burgin.
Burgin, editor in chief of the Alameda Newspaper Group, acknowledged a dispute with Lavin over her involvement with Councilman John Russo, but asserted she’d quit rather than accept a reassignment at another ANG paper.
The 35-year-old Lavin, who was promoted to editor from managing editor in December 1994, said she told Burgin last May that she was dating Russo “and he said it was okay.”
However, she went on, when Burgin learned in August that she planned on moving in with Russo, “he completely blew up.”
“He said I could not live with John and be editor of the Oakland Tribune,” Lavin recalled. “This was after I had told the entire editorial board of our plans and had excused myself from assigning or editing any city hall stories. Dave said if I married him, it would be all right.”
Lavin said she agreed not to live with Russo “because my job was important to me” and believed the issue was settled.
But in late August, Lavin recounted, she and Burgin argued about the hiring of a certain reporter, a matter entirely unrelated to her relationship with Russo.
“He had a terrible temper tantrum and said he was sick of working with me and that I needed to leave,” Lavin said.
The next day, she continued, she went into Burgin’s office to ask how their differences could be resolved.
“He told me the only way it could be resolved would be if I quit dating John,” Lavin said. Then, she added, Burgin offered to transfer her to the Tri-Valley Herald in Pleasanton as editor, which she refused.
“I said I would not accept a demotion and I was terminated,” Lavin said.
Burgin, 56, refused to discuss Lavin’s allegations in detail, bitterly questioning the need for an article on what he termed an internal matter. “But go ahead and beat up on me,” he snapped.
“It was obviously a conflict of interest,” Burgin said. “Chris Lavin did a good job as editor here and I wish her well, but her actions speak for themselves. She was warned. She also was offered a job in the company.”
Lavin was formerly night city editor of the Houston Post and was a reporter for several years at newspapers in Vermont and New York State.
Lavin’s attorney, Margaret Roeckl of Berkeley, said she will first file a claim of discrimination and wrongful termination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a requirement for a subsequent lawsuit.
Roeckl said the discrimination part of a suit would refer to Lavin’s gender and “marital status.”
Burgin, who has a reputation as a hard-charging, aggressive editor, is serving a second stint as ANG’s editorial chief and senior vice president. In 1993, he resigned during a squabble with the Alameda County Bar Association over a Tribune series charging a judge with handing out lenient sentences.
When the bar association objected to the series, Burgin wrote a letter to one of its members in which he referred to the legal profession as being “sick with greed and dishonesty.”
Burgin, who said his resignation was not connected to the controversy, previously was an editor at the Houston Post, Dallas Times-Herald and the San Francisco Examiner.
The day after Burgin was rehired, then-Tribune editor Pearl Stewart resigned, announcing that she could not work with him.
Stewart, the first black woman to edit a major-market newspaper, said she admired Burgin’s “abilities and knowledge as a journalist . . . . But in terms of style and relating to people, whether staff or the community, I think we have significant differences.”
Burgin, who had hired Stewart a year earlier, said he tried unsuccessfully to convince her not to leave, saying he liked and respected her.
But Stewart, at the time, remarked: “It would be better for me to go. When two top editors are in conflict, there is considerable disruption in the newsroom (E&P, Dec. 11, 1993).”
?(David Burgin) [Photo]