Messy Situation In St. Paul p.12

By: STACY JONES CALLERS TO THE St. Paul Pioneer Press' theater critic are no longer asked to leave a message on her voice mail. Instead they hear Jayne Blanchard explain that she is no longer employed at the paper.
Fired on May 16 for what the Pioneer Press calls "proven dishonesty," Blanchard has filed a gender bias suit against the 202,000-circulation daily.
While the Pioneer Press maintains that Blanchard was dismissed for "misstatements" while appearing on a local talk radio show to discuss her situation, the theater critic received two back-to-back suspensions over a conflict of interest issue prior to her termination and documented questionable treatment and comments by male superiors.

How her
troubles began
The paper's theater critic since December 1992, Blanchard's troubles started with what she thought was a great story idea: produce a play and then write an article about her experience.
"It was a shoe-on-the-other-foot thing," said Blanchard. "And then I would take my lumps" and share them with readers.
In early March, Blanchard ran the idea past her boss, arts and entertainment editor Bob Shaw. Though concerned about conflict of interest issues, Shaw approved the idea, provided Blanchard use no local moneys, business connections or financial investments from an entity she covered regularly to fund the project, said Laura Davis, in-house labor attorney for the Pioneer Press. Another added stipulation was that Blanchard should not hold the production at a theater in which she regularly reviewed new works.
To further lessen the chance of any conflict of interest situations occurring, Blanchard offered to take a leave of absence while she was producing the play. In the end, she remained on active duty with the approval of Pioneer Press management.
Blanchard planned to use accumulated vacation and comp time to work on the play, "The Obituary Bowl."
According to Blanchard she proceeded to make arrangements for the play, updating Shaw regularly. Using her own money, she secured a theater (though not the one mentioned during her initial discussion with Shaw) and paid publicity and printing costs. By the time rehearsals were scheduled to begin, Blanchard said she had invested nearly $10,000 of her own money.

Conflict of interest?
On the issue of the theater, when Blanchard's original St. Paul location fell through, she contracted with the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, an establishment she covered regularly on her beat.
Though she wasn't fired for conflict of interest violations, labor lawyer Davis said this detail violated Blanchard's original agreement with Shaw.
Blanchard denies she was told by Shaw or any other superior to avoid theaters whose works she normally reviewed. In any case, she said, "It wasn't a secret. Everybody knew."
"It was my job to update [Shaw]" on new developments, said Blanchard. "Whether he listened or not is his responsibility."
On April 17, with rehearsals set to begin the next day, Shaw informed Blanchard her story idea constituted a conflict of interest. In her complaint, filed in Ramsey County's Second Judicial District Court, Blanchard said Shaw charged her with violating the union contract and asked her to choose the play over her job.
In its answer to Blanchard's complaint, the Pioneer Press admits that Shaw told Blanchard her story was a conflict of interest, but denies Shaw commented about Blanchard violating the union contract. The paper's legal response added that it "is without sufficient information to admit or deny whether Shaw told Blanchard to choose the play over her job" as she alleges.

Heart of the suit
In an encounter that goes to the heart of Blanchard's gender bias suit, the Pioneer Press admits that Blanchard discussed her initial story idea with Shaw, but that he didn't take her seriously because in his own words it sounded like a "lark."
When Blanchard asked Shaw why he hadn't taken her request seriously, the editor replied, according to Blanchard's complaint, "Well, you said you were getting married this year and you're still not married, are you?"
The Pioneer Press admits Shaw made statements to that effect.
In response to what the paper deemed unacceptable conduct regarding her play activities, Blanchard was suspended April 30 for one week without pay and a disciplinary letter placed in her file.
While on suspension, the Pioneer Press published an article by Blanchard which "quoted heavily" from the woman starring in Blanchard's play, said the paper's attorney Davis. "The woman who was the source in the article was the star of Blanchard's one-woman production," said Davis.
For this transgression, the paper suspended Blanchard for another week without pay and placed a second letter in her personnel file.
Blanchard considers the move another example of the "two levels of treatment: one for men, one for women," prevalent at the Pioneer Press.
The discipline for the article is also a sham, according to Blanchard.
The article, on "theater manners" and the outrageous doings of patrons was one of "those rainy-day stories you keep in the can," said Blanchard.
One day, before her first suspension, Shaw asked Blanchard if she had anything to offer after another reporter's story had been cut. Blanchard suggested her theater piece, made up of vignettes collected throughout her tenure at the Pioneer Press.
What was supposed to be a column turned into a "Sunday piece with art," said Blanchard.
And while Blanchard admits quoting Nancy Bagshaw-Reasoner, the star of her play, her quotes had nothing to do with the current production. In fact, explained Blanchard, the quotes used were from two separate interviews conducted two and four years ago.
Conflict of interest never popped into her mind, said Blanchard. "Basically, I wasn't thinking. I had two hours to turn in a 32-inch story, so I used everything. I didn't pick and choose the best quotes."
"I was thinking of writing and not conflict of interest," she said, adding, "That's why we have editors and copy editors. They all knew what I was working on," regarding her play production.
On May 12, before her second suspension was completed, Blanchard filed her lawsuit alleging gender bias. Four days later, Blanchard was fired by the Pioneer Press.

Management's reason for firing
The termination stemmed, not from the conflict of interest contentions or Blanchard's lawsuit, said Davis, but from "tales" told while Blanchard was a guest on a local talk radio show hosted by Twin Cities personality Barbara Carlson.
During the course of the show, the Pioneer Press claims, Blanchard talked about the discipline of another Pioneer Press employee and got the details wrong, and declined to correct Carlson when she made erroneous comments about the paper.
There were a number of statements about infractions by another employee that were "misstatements and highly defamatory to the other employee," said the paper's in-house labor attorney Davis.
Both sides agree that the other Pioneer Press employee whose experiences were mentioned on the radio show was never referred to by name. Blanchard "said enough to identify the employee," countered Davis.
Blanchard's lawyer, Jeff Anderson, said the Pioneer.
Press chose such a specific termination clause because under the union contract "if an employee is fired for 'proven dishonesty' the paper doesn't have to pay benefits or severance."

Double standard?
While contending that male employees are treated differently than women employees at the paper, Blanchard's suit states men who have had conflict of interest or other ethical situations have "never been suspended, reassigned or in any way punished."
The paper denies the charge, but admits there have been male employees who have had ethical or conflict of interest issues.
In other allegations, the lawsuit gives three examples of questionable comments by male newsroom employees to female co-workers which Blanchard claims fostered an atmosphere detrimental to women.
In one incident, a woman editor reported her pregnancy to the paper's editor in chief, Walker Lundy, in order to arrange maternity leave. Walker then remarked, "Do you know who the father is?"
"It was an unfortunate comment," said Davis, acknowledging its truth. Yet, she said, "Although certain things may be true, they don't constitute liability."
Along with the lawsuit, Blanchard has filed grievances with her union, Local 2 of the Newspaper Guild of the Twin Cities. The union's grievance committee is scheduled to look over Blanchard's case within a week and decide if arbitration is called for, said local union representative Dave Longerbone.
In the meantime, Blanchard waits, ceding "it's a rough time," financially and emotionally. Though a few co-workers have rallied around her, she is largely on her own.
"If I have [co-worker] support, then the majority of it is silent," said Blanchard.
Whether through union arbitration or district court, Blanchard hopes to be reinstated or compensated and have her personnel record cleared.
"I can't move on, look for another job. It says I was fired for dishonesty," lamented Blanchard. "Who's going to hire me?"
As of yet, no district court date has been set. And Blanchard's attorney said, historically, this type of lawsuit doesn't make it to court. However, he cautioned, Blanchard's case may be an exception.
"The Pioneer Press is dug in. They refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem over there," said Anderson. "They're incapable of recognizing it. Therefore, they're incapable of changing it."
"The Pioneer Press is denying the accusations and absolutely denying liability," maintained the paper's attorney, Davis.
?(E&P Web Site:
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher June 14, 1997)


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