Fired Publisher Says Boss Expected Christian Image

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Updated at 1:15 p.m., April 23

The fired publisher of The Waldron (Ark.) News weekly claims in a federal job discrimination lawsuit that when his bosses at Gasden, Ala.-based Lancaster Management Inc. put him on probation six years ago they set some unusual requirements for continued employment, including regular church attendance, family dinners … and marital sex.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Smith, Ark., Marty Backus Jr. says executives at the family-owned chain made the demands on him at a time he was having marital problems. Among the requirements set out in a two-page letter, Backus’ suit alleges, was that he and his wife “go to bed with each other every night without fail.”

Backus alleges the management letter ordered him to abstain from alcohol; “have dinner as a family at least five time a week”; begin and end his days by praying aloud with his wife; and “attend church weekly.”

Backus was fired in 2001, shortly after he and his wife separated. They were later reconciled, according to the suit, which also alleges the Lancasters said he could be fired because he did not “reflect the image of a Christian family.”

The lawsuit was filed March 18 and first reported March 20 in an article by reporter John T. Anderson in the Southwest Times Record, a Stephens Media Group daily in Fort Smith, Ark. But the lawsuit’s claims went unnoticed nationally until The Big Sandy News, a twice-weekly in Paintsville, Ky., covered the story on its Web site. The article, by Johnson County bureau reporter Chris McDavid, swept the Internet. “We’ve been getting calls by all kinds of reporters,” said a receptionist at the Fort Smith law offices of Backus’ attorney, Joe Byars.

Byars did not return a phone message for comment. Messages left with Lancaster Management were also not returned.

The Big Sandy News‘ McDavid reported that Lancaster had not filed an answer to the complaint as of early April. Court records available at the Web site for the U.S. District Court for Western Arkansas show that a case titled Backus v. Mena Newspapers Inc., numbered 2:02-cv-2064 and classified as “job discrimination,” was filed March 18 and assigned to Judge Robert Dawson. The federal court for western Arkansas is not on the PACER electronic access system, so the court filings could not be retrieved remotely.

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