Jury finds in favor of former NENI employee


NEWFANE -- A jury has awarded $152,000 to a Charlestown, N.H., woman who claimed her medical-leave rights were violated when she was employed by New England Newspapers Inc.

After a two-day trial in Windham Superior Court Civil Division, the jury found on Friday that New England Newspapers Inc., which publishes the Reformer, and Publisher Edward Woods violated Christine Cheney's rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and Vermont's Parental and Family Leave Act.

The two acts entitle "eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid medical leave when they are unable to perform their job due to a serious health condition," court papers show. Employees are entitled to their original job or an equivalent position upon their return.

A spokesman for New England Newspapers said the company is weighing its legal options and may appeal the decision.

In a lawsuit filed in October 2012, Cheney said she was an advertising sales niche manager when, on Jan. 20, 2011, she fell on ice and seriously injured her ankle and hip. She was out of work Jan. 20 through March 16 of that year, using unpaid leave for part of that time.

When Cheney returned to work on March 17, she found "two new employees sitting at two of three desks of her workstation," court documents say. Cheney claims she was offered a different job "that would result in loss of seniority, a substantial reduction in commission-based pay and require significant travel." She refused the transfer and departed.

In responding to the lawsuit, an attorney for New England Newspapers and Woods denied that the company's "employment relationship" with Cheney had been altered and that she "was not deprived of any rights, statutory or otherwise." The response also claimed that Cheney's actions "in failure to perform her assignments amount to insubordination and/or a failure to comply with her obligations to accept comparable work assignments."

NENI also contended that the job offered to Cheney was an equivalent position with the same pay.


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