Randi Kirshbaum, the Portland, ME market veteran who claims she was fired for not returning to the station after working from home for six weeks, has reportedly hired a lawyer and plans to sue Saga Communications.
Kirshbaum, a 38-year Portland radio vet, serves as Program Director for hot AC “Coast 93.1” WMGX and adult alternative sister WCLZ (98.9), where she hosts afternoons, while also covering middays for country cluster-mate WPOR (101.9).
Like many others at the group, Kirshbaum had been working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Saga Portland employees began their return to the offices and studios on Monday (May 18). However due to her health condition, Kirshbaum says she wanted to continue to work from home. Her doctors say she has a risk of contracting pulmonary fibrosis, Kirshbaum says, which can be triggered by respiratory diseases like COVID-19.
Saga said it was up to their determination when Kirshbaum would return, and that she was laid off, not terminated, for refusing to comply. Under this type of dismissal, Kirshbaum would continue on Saga’s health plans and have the opportunity to rejoin the company, Senior VP/Operations Chris Forgy told the Portland Press-Herald.
Kirshbaum has since hired employment attorney David Webbert, who told the newspaper that he plans to file a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, alleging that Saga violated the Maine Whistleblowers Protection Act, the Maine Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Those three laws all require Randi to start her case by filing a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission,” Webbert said in an email to the publication. “After waiting the mandatory 180 days, we can then file suit in court in Portland.”
A discrimination complaint with the rights commission will be filed once Kirshbaum receives her personnel file from the company, which Webbert says Saga has to provide within ten days from the May 18 request.
Responding to the planned filings, Forgy says the company was in its rights to lay off Kirshbaum, according to a temporary remote work agreement dated April 8, which says the company would evaluate her work from home arrangement every two weeks.
In a May 18 email to staff explaining the situation, Forgy wrote, “I am sending this email because we wanted to set the record straight about what actually happened in Randi’s situation. Today, when Randi did not report to work as requested, we gave her notice that she was being placed on layoff. We did not terminate her for health reasons. In fact, we didn’t terminate her at all.”
“Saga is wrong to think it can force an employee to risk her life on its say-so even when her doctor disagrees and it (Saga) has no medical expert at all,” Webbert says. “In short, the work from home agreement does not trump Randi’s basic human rights and does not give Saga the absolute right to make life-and-death decisions for her.”