Published December 10, 2009
A seasoned reporter who says he was the "conservative wolf" in his Maine newsroom claims he was wrongfully fired after he wrote a harshly critical personal e-mail to a group that supports gay marriage.
Larry Grard, 58, was fired from the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, Maine on Nov. 10, less than a week after he sent an e-mail to the Human Rights Campaign after Maine voters repealed a law that would have allowed gay couples to marry.
"This is an example of what can happen when you stand up for your beliefs," Grard told FoxNews.com. "I was the lone conservative wolf in that newsroom for years and I never said a thing because nobody agreed with me. I suppose that's what conservatives have to do today — just shut up."
Offended that the Human Rights Campaign used the words "lies" and "hate" in a press release denouncing the voters' rejection of Maine's law recognizing same-sex marriage, Grard wrote:
"Who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the yes on 1 crowd. You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!"
Grard, who sent the e-mail while at work using a personal account, admits he had a lapse in judgment. He said he assumed the message would be anonymous, but he later learned that Trevor Thomas, deputy communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, had complained to the newspaper's editor, Bill Thompson.
"He hauled me into the office about a week later and said, 'Do you know you did something wrong?'" Grard said. "He said, 'There's no wiggle room here'."
"Why is that, Mr. Thompson? ...
"They could've said write the guy a letter of apology and don't do it again."
Grard, a reporter and editor for 35 years, said he should have received a lesser penalty because he had been with the paper for 18 years.
The Portland Newspaper Guild has filed a grievance on Grard's behalf and is awaiting a date for an arbitration hearing.
"There was no process, and that's part of the grievance," Grard said. "My union is vigorously fighting this. And unless mediation takes care of it, we're going to go to federal arbitration."
In a statement to FoxNews.com, Thomas acknowledged sending an e-mail to Thompson, but he said he never asked for Grard to be fired.
"I received the below email this morning after our national media release was sent to your team," Thomas wrote to the newspaper. "It's frankly, just not acceptable coming from a news organization the morning after our defeat."
Thomas said the editor, Thompson, advised that management was looking into the matter and did not contact him further.
"It is my understanding they conducted their own review," Thomas wrote to FoxNews.com. "I only learned Larry was fired from a reporter asking for comment."
Thompson declined comment when reached by phone on Wednesday.
"I have nothing to say about this situation," he said. "It's a personnel matter."
But Fred Brown, co-chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee, said Grard acted improperly as a reporter.
"He shouldn't have done that," Brown told FoxNews.com. "You don't let that kind of stuff out. [A reporter] should never let people who you might be reporting on know where you stand."
Had Grard been an editorial writer, the situation would be different, Brown said.
"He shouldn't express any form of partiality," he said. "He gives up part of that ability."
Grard, who earned less than $40,000 a year at the paper, says he's now left wondering how to pay for health costs related to his wife's diabetes.
"We're hurting, we're without income," he said. "We don't make much money, and her blood sugar is through the roof. It's really taking a horrible toll on her."
And as if losing his job wasn't enough, Grard's wife, Lisa, a freelance writer, also lost her biweekly food column at the paper following his dismissal.
"Isn't that amazing? What a coincidence," Larry Grard said. "How small can you get?"
Grard said he's "absolutely" certain his termination had a political undercurrent.
"There's some people out there wielding a lot of power and a lot of money and you better watch out," he said.
"Freedom of speech is an issue here, religious discrimination is an issue here … I don't hate anybody. It's contrary to my belief system to hate people, but I saw some hate coming the other way and I don't like being called a hater."