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Court: Newspaper allowed to fire union journalists

A long-running wrongful termination dispute between a local newspaper and several employees has come to an end at an appeals court in Washington, D.C., according to local media reports. The case was seen as a victory for business owners, but the employees who lost their jobs are less enthusiastic about the outcome.

The eight workers at the Santa Barbara News-Press were dismissed from their positions after they participated in a series of protests about the paper's blurry line between opinion and news. These journalists were concerned that the integrity of the news in their community was falling victim to poor reporting and unethical action on the part of the publisher. They even went so far as to hang a sign from a local pedestrian bridge that told area residents to cancel their newspaper subscription.

The reporters allege that they were discriminated against because of their participation in union activities. They also say they were fired after bringing up legitimate complaints about their working conditions. For a journalist, ethics are among the most important workplace concerns.

Instead of siding with the plaintiffs, the appeals court ruled that the publisher of the newspaper was allowed to make the final decisions about the content in the publication. Reporters, therefore, do not have the authority to make final decisions about the content of a newspaper, even if they feel the content is unethical.

The case stemmed from several incidents in 2006, during which top editors at the newspaper quit their jobs to protest the owner's involvement in deciding the publication's content. Eight reporters who worked under those editors were fired after they decided to form a union.

Legal experts say the court used the First Amendment to rationalize its decision, saying that the newspaper's First Amendment rights would have been violated if its leadership had been required to hire back the dismissed reporters.

It can be difficult, sometimes, to determine what constitutes wrongful termination. Those who feel they may have been fired without proper cause can speak to an attorney for more information about their situation.

Given the prolonged status of this case, it appears that judges involved had some difficulty in dealing with its thorny issues. Though it is not clear whether the workers will seek to appeal to a higher court, it's possible they will find success in it if they do.

Source: The Fresno Bee, "Appeals court sides with newspaper in labor fight," Sam Hananel, Dec. 18, 2012

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