Maine Reporter: I Was Fired Over Anti-Same-Sex Marriage E-mail
Larry Grard admits he had “a lapse in judgment.” But Grard – who’s been a reporter for thirty-five years, the last eighteen of them at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville – says the e-mail he sent from his personal account to a national gay rights group shouldn’t have been grounds for his dismissal.
Grard was fired by Bill Thompson, editor of the Sentinel and its sister paper the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, shortly after the Nov. 3 election in which Maine voters repealed a same-sex marriage law approved by the Legislature. Grard said he arrived at work the morning after the vote to find an e-mailed press release from the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., that blamed the outcome of the balloting on hatred of gays.
Grard, who said he’d gotten no sleep the night before, used his own e-mail to send a response. “They said the Yes-on-1 people were haters. I’m a Christian. I take offense at that,” he said. “I e-mailed them back and said basically, ‘We’re not the ones doing the hating. You’re the ones doing the hating.’
“I sent the same message in his face he sent in mine.”
Grard thought his response was anonymous, but it turned out to be anything but. One week later, he was summoned to Thompson’s office. He was told that Trevor Thomas, deputy communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, had Googled his name and discovered he was a reporter. According to Grard, Thompson said he was firing him because, “There’s no wiggle room.” [Editor's note: This paragraph has been corrected from an earlier version; see comment below.]
He was immediately dismissed.
Thomas did not return a phone message left at his office. Neither Thompson nor Scott Wasser, executive editor of the Sentinel and the other MaineToday Media papers, responded to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment on the incident.
Grard hadn’t covered the marriage issue or other gay-rights controversies for the Sentinel. He said that wasn’t because he was opposed to doing so, but “other people grabbed those assignments.”
According to Grard and his union, the Portland Newspaper Guild, he has never before had any disciplinary issues. Guild president Tom Bell said in an e-mail that a grievance has been filed on Grard’s behalf, and the Guild is awaiting a date for an arbitration hearing, which will probably take place in three or four months. “The Guild is defending the contract,” Bell said, “which requires that there be progressive discipline in situations like this.”
Grard said he wouldn’t be complaining if he’d been subjected to a lesser penalty, such as a reprimand or a suspension without pay, for his first offence. He said reporters frequently send personal e-mails from their own accounts during working hours without incurring management’s wrath.
Grard said he thinks his religious beliefs were a factor in his firing, calling it “anti-Christian bias.” “A lawyer said to me, ‘What if you’d agreed with [the Human Rights Campaign]? Would the company fire you for that? Of course they wouldn’t have,’” he said.
The Sentinel and the other MaineToday papers editorialized in favor of same-sex marriage.
The week after Grard was fired, he said, his wife, Lisa, who wrote a biweekly food column for the Sentinel as a freelancer, received an e-mail informing her that her work would no longer be needed.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed firstname.lastname@example.org.