Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
Serena Bhaduri, a former USA Today digital sales director, recently filed a lawsuit against the media company, alleging discrimination. According to Bhaduri, soon after she disclosed to her managers that she was pregnant, the company terminated her.
The lawsuit names Gannett (GCI), which owns USA Today, as well as employees including Anna Riddle and Estee Cross, which are accused in the suit of “interfering with (Bhaduri’s) rights” according to media reports about the suit.
Bhaduri says she was told she was being terminated because she had a “negative attitude” that was contributing to “a toxic workplace.” In addition, Bhaduri claims she was told she “did not take direction well.” However, also according to Bhaduri, she spoke to a Human Resources manager who said the termination had nothing to do with performance.
Bhaduri’s attorney put it plainly for the press: “She notified them that she was pregnant and within days was terminated. That’s unacceptable. I think what makes this case worse is they did that knowing the background… Apparently, if you get pregnant more than one time in a two-year span that’s a problem.”
From a Public Relations perspective, the lawsuit filing is timely for Bhaduri, because it comes when Gannett is already in the news thanks to the recent merger with GateHouse, a move that created the largest U.S. newspaper company, based on circulation. However, this timing does not help Gannett, because people are going to be talking about the lawsuit as well as the merger, which was supposed to dominate the media news cycle.
At this point, neither Gannett nor the employees named in the suit are speaking to the media. CNN reports reaching out but receiving no replies. It’s likely the company is working out how, exactly, to respond to the allegation when they would rather be basking in the earned media related to the exciting merger news.
One of the chief reasons this is an especially prickly situation, from a Public Relations perspective, is one of the key details of the case. According to media reports, Bhaduri had previously given birth to a son, who passed away roughly two months later. Bhaduri then returned to work about a month after this, and the suit claims one of her coworkers, Cross, accused her of causing “low morale” among members of the team.
Later, when Bhaduri learned she was pregnant again, media reports that the suit alleges Cross and Riddle “ramped up their campaign of discrimination and retaliation.”
So, from a PR perspective, this is not only about a disgruntled employee. This is about a grieving mother who lost a child and was then forced out of her job. At least, that’s one version of the story, and it’s a hugely sympathetic narrative. One that Gannett will need to navigate very carefully.
About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading influencer marketing agency.