Portland radio personality Randi Kirshbaum has filed two employment discrimination complaints against her former employer, alleging she was terminated from her job because of her age, a pre-existing medical condition, and her employer’s refusal to make an accommodation for her to work from home rather than return to the office, where she faced a greater risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Kirshbaum’s attorney, David G. Webbert, on Sunday said his client filed complaints against Portland Radio Group and its parent corporation, Saga Communications of Michigan. Similar complaints were filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency. The state and federal agencies have a work-sharing agreement under which the MHRC conducts an initial investigation, which is reviewed by the EEOC.

Randi Kirshbaum Photo courtesy of Randi Kirshbaum

Kirshbaum, who had been on Portland’s airwaves for 38 years, was working for the Portland Radio Group as program manager for WCLZ and Coast 93.1, and was an on-air host for WCLZ and country station WPOR. She said she was fired in May during an online meeting with officials from Saga Communications.

In an interview earlier this year with the Press Herald, Kirshbaum said she had been working remotely from her Scarborough home for six weeks, doing her shows from there and managing other station staff members. Kirshbaum requested to work remotely at the recommendation of her physician, Dr. Allyson Howe. Kirshbaum has a genetic medical condition that could be triggered by respiratory ailments like COVID-19.

“They decided for some inexplicable reason that I needed to come back, even though I’ve been able to do everything I need to do from home,” Kirshbaum said during an interview in May. “It was shocking, because this (pandemic) is a fluid situation. Two weeks from now, it could all be different.”

Chris Forgy, senior vice president of operations for Saga, said in a May interview that Kirshbaum was let go because she did not follow the terms she agreed to for working remotely.

Forgy said when Kirshbaum started working remotely she had agreed that her situation would be assessed every two weeks to see if the arrangement was working, and that “it would be Saga’s decision” as to when Kirshbaum should come back to work. When she refused to return to the office, Forgy said the company placed Kirshbaum on “layoff.”

“She’s completely uncomfortable coming back to the office, and it’s virtually impossible for her to be a supervisor and not come back,” Forgy said in May. “We need to have leadership in the building.”

Forgy, reached Sunday evening, said the company does not comment on personnel matters involving any former or present employee.

Kirshbaum, in an email exchange Sunday evening, referred all questions to her attorney. Webbert is a partner in the Maine-based firm of Johnson, Webbert & Garvan, which specializes in employment litigation. Webbert said that Kirshbaum, 66, is in a high risk category for “dying or suffering serious injury from COVID-19.”

“Despite my very favorable performance reviews and the strong support and loyalty of our listeners, I was abruptly fired from my job of 38 years when I refused to defy my doctor’s orders and risk my life by appearing in-person at work in the midst of this deadly global pandemic,” Kirshbaum states in her Maine Human Rights Commission complaint.

“Instead of providing the obviously reasonable accommodation of allowing me to continue performing my job remotely for a discrete period of time – something I had already proved more than capable of doing over a six-week trial period – my employer issued an ultimatum and fired me when I would not immediately return to work in the office,” her complaint states.

Kirshbaum had been working at home from April 1 through May 17. She was fired on May 18.

“In terminating my employment, Saga unlawfully retaliated against me for requesting and taking a reasonable accommodation for my disability,” Kirshbaum told the MHRC. Kirshbaum asserts in her complaint that her age and sex were also contributing factors to her being terminated.

In her MHRC complaint, Kirshbaum states that Saga Communications, since March 2020, has terminated the employment of a least eight full-time employees over the age of 50.

The complaint filed with the EEOC alleges that Saga Communications violated her civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age in Discrimination Act.

After the MHRC and EEOC investigation is completed or once 180 days have passed, Kirshbaum then has the ability to file suit in court on her legal claims. The only remedy those agencies have is the authority to issue a finding of reasonable grounds to believe Saga Communications engaged in unlawful employment discrimination. Kirshbaum would have to go to court to seek monetary damages or reinstatement to her job, Webbert said.

Correction: This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, 2020 to correct the name of Webbert’s law firm.

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