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Witnesses Testify For Serena Markstrom In Register-Guard Descrimination Case

Serena Markstrom

On Friday, Lawyers for former Register Guard reporter Serena Markstrom rested their discrimination case in Lane County Circuit Court.  KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert was there.

AK: So Tiffany, tell us how the day unfolded.

TE: The day opened with testimony from Randi Bjornstad, a 28 year veteran reporter with the Register Guard and president of the Eugene Newspaper Guild. Bjornstad testified that the company reassigned Markstrom from features to hard news without training or professional support and that caused stress and anxiety. Bjornstad said the union became involved in Markstrom’s employment issues when the paper implemented a Performance Improvement Plan, or PIP, in 2013. She said it contained unprecedented requirements for a reporter, including a story quota. Bjornstad stated she had never seen any other RG reporter challenged in this way. She called it a “last chance agreement geared to terminate” Markstrom.

AK: That sounds like pretty strong testimony coming from Markstrom’s former colleague. What did the Register Guard’s lawyers ask Bjornstad?

TE: In cross examination, Register Guard attorney Caroline Guest used clips of Bjornstad’s 11-hour deposition. The defense argued that Markstrom checked her company email while on medical leave during pregnancy, an act that was prohibited. They allege she destroyed emails and text messages that belonged to the company. Bjornstad was asked to read aloud messages to Markstrom in which she gave instruction of how to delete draft emails and a way to set preferences to have emails routed to a separate server.

AK: And that’s a major part of this case with the Register Guard alleging Markstrom destroyed evidence in the form of emails and texts. But this happened while Markstrom was on medical leave. I understand the court heard from several witnesses who are close to the plaintiff…

TE: That’s right, we heard from Markstrom’s obstetrician Tamara Stenshoel who testified she worried for Markstrom’s health at work and wrote a letter advising medical leave because the stress at work endangered her pregnancy.

TE: We also heard from Retired Register Guard reporter Bob Keefer who took the stand to describe Markstrom as an extremely good features writer who was bored by conventional stories. Keefer said she brought younger, hipper readers to the RG with early use of social media.

TE: The last witness for the plaintiff was Shaun Nugent, Serena Markstrom’s husband. He testified work problems started shortly after their wedding in October, 2013. Nugent wept openly as he described Markstrom’s difficult childhood and the stress and depression Markstrom experienced after she was fired while pregnant with their first child. After his testimony, the plaintiff rested.

AK: What happens next in this trial?

TE: The Defense will present their case starting on Tuesday. Markstrom is seeking $125,000 in damages. And the Register Guard is counter suing her for the cost of legal fees and forensics. KLCC will have a reporter in court Tuesday and will keep you updated as the trial continues.

KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert was in court today reporting on the discrimination case of Markstrom vs. The Register Guard.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.
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