The Message

Newspapers are generally good at reporting about lawsuits involving major businesses within their circulation area, but they can be notably less thorough when they or their affiliates are in the judicial crosshairs. The Denver Post deserves credit, then, for running a September 15 report about an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit leveled against the Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles finances for the Post and the Rocky Mountain News. In it, the EEOC argues that Karen Stenvall, a former retail sales manager for the DNA (and, previously, an employee at the Post), was fired primarily because she'd committed the sin of getting pregnant.

Thus far, however, neither the September 15 article nor any other that's appeared in the Denver dailies has mentioned a pair of additional cases pending against the Post or firms associated with it. Veteran reporter Carol Kreck recently filed a complaint with the EEOC, charging the Post with gender and age discrimination over the way she left the paper around the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, David Marin has sued his former employer, the Alameda Newspaper Group, a California-based chain of six newspapers that, like the Post, is owned by Denver's MediaNews Group.

Kreck, 57, spent decades at the Post in a variety of news-gathering roles, and according to lawyer Darold Killmer, who speaks for her, she's currently in an odd sort of employment limbo. "She wasn't dismissed," he says. "She's officially on disability leave right now, but her status is up in the air. As a legal matter, they've basically eliminated any satisfactory position for her, but they've never uttered the words 'You're fired.'"

Nevertheless, Kreck was one of several veteran women journalists who left the Post in close proximity to each other. (The group includes former national editor Michelle Fulcher and fellow reporters Cindy Brovsky and Gwen Florio.) That's why "we filed preserving the right for class-action status -- because I think it's part of a pattern," Killmer says. Right now, the EEOC is in the process of scheduling Kreck's complaint for mediation, and Killmer expresses optimism that a resolution can be reached. Post spokeswoman Jeanette Chavez, the paper's managing editor/administration, had no comment.

For his part, Marin wouldn't consent to an interview for this column, but his suit states that two major factors contributed to him being wrongfully terminated by ANG in March 2003. First, he points to purported fraud in a "best-of" contest overseen by Colleen Brewer, a onetime ANG ad director who's now vice president of display advertising for the DNA; Brewer didn't reply to e-mails from Westword. Second, he asserts that Michael Lynch, his immediate superior, who came to ANG several years after working for the Post, punished him for wanting to adopt needy children. Both Lynch, who is no longer with ANG and couldn't be reached, and Brewer are named as defendants in the suit.

According to John Boggs, Marin's attorney, a disagreement over his client's desire for fatherhood immediately preceded his ouster. Marin, who's single, was well along in the labyrinthine adoption process required by the state of California when, Boggs says, "Lynch found out about it and strenuously objected. He told him he shouldn't go through with it." After Marin refused to change his plans, Boggs continues, "Lynch told him, 'You're to instruct your staff that you're resigning at the end of the month.' He also handed him something about a job at another newspaper, and said, 'Maybe you can move there and raise a family.'" Marin wound up taking this unsolicited advice. After applying for the gig, at the Santa Maria Times, he was promptly hired and later promoted. Today, he's working as an executive in the Times advertising department and serving as a foster parent to Brian, Yvanna and Jesus, three once-homeless kids (ages three, five and seven, respectively) who subsisted on pet food for a time before coming to live with him. He hopes he'll soon be able to formally adopt them.

Another part of Marin's suit, which was filed in late July, deals with discoveries he allegedly made in 2002 upon taking over as ANG's ad director. Brewer, his predecessor in the position, had overseen the chain's best-of promotion, in which readers voted for their favorite local eateries, businesses and so on. In the suit, Marin maintains that on Brewer's watch, the game was rigged.

Best-of specials, which are conducted by a wide range of publications, including this one, generate profits and goodwill -- a terrific combination -- but they present plenty of ethical challenges, too. Last year, for example, the editorial department at the Rocky, whose best-of entry is called "Top of the Rocky," sauntered into a gray area by giving the names of winners to their business-side counterparts prior to publication, so that salespersons could solicit ads from the lucky victors. At the time, Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple defended this approach, noting that those contacted weren't eliminated if they failed to purchase space in the "Top of the Rocky" insert. Via e-mail, Temple taps out the same tune. He reveals that salespeople will be informed about "Top of the Rocky" winners before the October 28 debut of this year's supplement, but not the category in which they prevailed.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts