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Journalist Mark Rahner files lawsuit against Seattle Times alleging disability discrimination

Saturday 9 June 2012


From Seattle Weekly Blogs:


Mark Rahner
Mark Rahner

Journalist Mark Rahner Files Lawsuit Against Seattle Times Alleging Disability Discrimination

By Keegan Hamilton
Wed., May 30 2012 at 9:50 AM

Ex-Seattle Times reporter/current comic book writer Mark Rahner, last seen crawling out of a coffin made of bacon to promote Crypticon, is suing his former employer, claiming he was unfairly fired after he refused to work a night shift.

Rahner filed a lawsuit last week in Western Washington federal court under the Americans With Disabilities Act. According to court documents, he suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, an obscure [sic] illness that "affects the body's rational response to stress."

"CFS is episodic in nature and, when active, interferes with most major life activities," Rahner's attorney Caitlin DiMatta writes. "There is no known cure for CFS or known symptom suppressors or elevators."

In a business of perpetual deadlines and editors breathing down your neck to meet them, stress is a given. And, for the most part, Rahner thrived. He primarily wrote about pop culture (check out his hilarious piece about unintentionally gay Hollywood westerns), but occasionally covered hard news, contributing to the Times team that took home the 2010 Pulitzer for breaking news reporting for their reporting on the Maurice Clemmons shooting.

Rahner got his start with the Times in 1999, and, according to court documents, he was not diagnosed with CFS until 2009. At that point, he was working a standard eight-hour shift that officially began at 9 a.m., but varied depending on the day's news. He claims his illness--defined by the U.S. National Library of Medicine as "severe, continued tiredness that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other medical conditions"--caused him to show up an hour or two late on more than one occaison.

According to Rahner, the late arrivals irked his supervisor, metro desk editor Mark Higgins, who "publicly criticized, denigrated, and humiliated [Rahner] about his tardiness, and his medical condition in front of other Seattle Times staff." In spring of 2010, Rahner says he requested a more flexible schedule, akin to that enjoyed by some of his colleagues, but was instead reassigned to a demanding night shift that stretched from 3 to 11 p.m.

Rahner claims both Higgins and executive editor David Boardman explained the switch by saying the chronically fatigued scribe "didn't like mornings." But Rahner apparently liked evenings even less: He responded to the new schedule by taking a month of vacation and "several more" months of medical leave. Rahner says in court documents that, prior to his sabbatical, he received the first negative performance review in his eleven-year tenure at Seattle Times," which he refused to sign.

When Rahner returned, he was allegedly referred to the Times' HR department. The lawsuit says the Times officially classified Rahner as disabled and extended his leave, but also asked for a detailed explanation from his doctor, which he claims he'd already provided several times before. The physician reportedly wrote that the night shift would worsen Rahner's condition, and require at least three 15-minute breaks. Rahner continued to protest the change, calling in a representative from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild to help negotiate a deal.

The paper wouldn't budge, however, and sent another questionnaire to Rahner's doctor, this time with a description of the night shift duties that Rahner's attorney characterizes as "wholly fabricated." With the new wording, the doc said Rahner was capable of doing the job. Rahner was supposed to start at his new post on January 11, 2011. He refused, and was promptly fired the next day.

Jill Mackie, the Seattle Times' vice president of public affairs, declined to discuss the details of Rahner's lawsuit, saying it is company policy not to publicly comment on personnel matters and ongoing litigation. Mackie noted that "The Seattle Times has a long record of not discriminating based on disability or any other protected class."

Rahner has since left the news biz and turned to comic books. He is the creator of the zombie comic Rotten, and, according to his personal website, he has also written for Green Hornet, Warlord of Mars, and another book titled, Dejah Thoris and the White Apes of Mars. He appeared at Crypticon, the Northwest's horror convention, over Memorial Day weekend, and released a video to promote the event featuring the aforementioned bacon coffin.

Rahner referred an inquiry about the lawsuit to his attorney, who did not immediately respond to questions sent via email. Although the court filings offer a fairly detailed description of Rahner's time at the Times, there's no explanation as to why the night shift would have aggravated his sleepy condition, and no independent verification of his claims that his bosses "publicly criticized, denigrated, and humiliated" him.

The Seattle Times has until June 12 to respond to Rahner's lawsuit in court. Rahner accuses the company of disability discrimination, creating a "hostile work environment," wrongful discharge, and "negligent infliction of emotional stress." As compensation, he and his lawyer are seeking lost wages, expenses, and an unspecified amount of "damages to compensate [Rahner] for his emotional distress."


The above, with comments, originally appeared here.



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