Former Topeka M.E. Settles Wrongful-Firing Suit

By: Joe Strupp A former managing editor at The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, who was forced to resign last summer after the paper published a freelance story with fabricated information from a key source, reached a settlement with the paper this week on a wrongful-termination complaint she had filed against the daily.

Terms of the settlement were not released.

Anita Miller Fry, who left the newspaper June 22 after 28 years at the daily, had filed a complaint in 2004 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming she was wrongly discharged. The complaint accused the Capital-Journal and its parent company, Morris Communications, of age discrimination, sexual discrimination, retaliation, and violations of the Equal Pay Act.

Fry did not return calls seeking comment. Capital-Journal Publisher Mark Nusbaum declined comment to E&P.

Fry had been forced to resign after the newspaper ran an article on May 2, 2004, in which a local woman lied about being a survivor of the Bataan Death March as a Navy nurse during World War II. In the story, Juanita Smith of Topeka, who had served as director of the Topeka YWCA Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program at the time, was quoted as saying that experience prompted her to devote her life to working with youngsters.

On May 5, Fry received an e-mail questioning Smith's story, according to the paper. Fry then asked a reporter to look into concerns raised in the message, but nothing concrete was found.

In June, the paper received another e-mail questioning the story, which promoted the paper to look into Smith's background. Editors began an investigation that revealed several details of Smith's story couldn't be confirmed.

Capital-Journal editors went so far as to check with the Navy's chief medical historian, who said Smith did not appear on any POW lists for Navy, Army, or civilian nurses, the paper revealed. They also searched personnel file cards filled out by Navy nurses during the period and could find no record of Smith, the paper reported.

Smith eventually admitted she had fabricated the story, in part to help land her YWCA job, which she left shortly after revealing the lie in June. The Capital-Journal also pulled the original story from its Web site at that time, the paper reported.

After the paper appointed a Nusbaum publisher in September, he offered Fry a chance to rejoin the Capital-Journal, but she declined. She is now employed by a local health care organization.


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