Maine disc jockey sues radio station over work-from-home rule

Portland radio DJ Randi Kirschbaum appears in an undated social media photo. (Photo by Randi Kirschbaum via Facebook.com, Graphic by The Desk)

A Maine radio broadcaster is suing her former employer after she was fired for refusing to work from the station’s studios during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit was brought in court by Randi Kirshbaum, a 68-year-old woman who spent 38 years working for radio stations in Portland, Maine.

According to the lawsuit, Kirshbaum worked for two stations owned by the Portland Radio Group — country station WPOR (101.9 FM) and adult alternative-format station WCLZ (98.9 FM). At the start of the pandemic, Kirshbaum received a note from her doctor urging her to work from home based on her age and her family’s history with a specific respiratory disorder.

Medical professionals urged older individuals or those who had certain medical histories to remain home at the start of the pandemic. The novel coronavirus COVID-19 affected different people in different ways, but most people who suffered the worst symptoms associated with the virus reported specific respiratory problems.

Despite her doctor’s note, and despite a state-of-emergency declaration by Maine’s governor at the time, the station continued to urge her to come into the office, Kirshbaum’s lawsuit said. She was ultimately fired in May 2020 when she refused to leave her home. Kirshbaum now works part-time for a Maryland radio station, where she voice-tracks from her Maine home.

Kirshbaum’s lawsuit is seeking two years of back pay plus immediate reinstatement. She claims her firing violated provisions of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, which was passed by Congress in response to the pandemic. Her lawsuit was first reported Sunday evening by the Bangor Daily News.

An attorney representing Kirshbaum said she also filed a complaint with the Main Human Rights Commission, and that the complaint is still pending.

The Portland Radio Group is owned and operated by Saga Communications, a Michigan-based broadcaster that owns radio stations across the country. The company was founded by Ed Christian, who remained president of the broadcaster until his death on August 19.

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