WHEN TWO EDITORS and the art director of Just Out quit the local LGBT paper in March, they assumed they would quickly collect unemployment checks. After all, the three say, they had been paid only sporadically for six months, which qualifies them for unemployment because they "quit with good cause." But after the dramatic walkout, two of the ex-staffers had to fight to receive checks. They say Just Out Publisher and Editor Marty Davis disputed them every step of the way.
Former News Editor Jaymee Cuti, Arts and Culture Editor Jim Radosta, and Art Director Blake Martinez all filed for unemployment after they left Just Out in March ["Weaker and Weeker," News, March 19]. In Oregon, when an employee claims to quit with "good cause," the state talks to both sides. If there's any discrepancy between the employee and employer's stories, the unemployment office has to make a judgment call about whom to believe.
While Cuti was awarded unemployment, Radosta and Martinez's requests were initially denied. That possibly indicates that the staffers and Davis are telling two different stories about what happened behind the scenes at Just Out.
A Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) complaint Cuti filed after quitting reveals the staffer's perspective. In addition to alleging six months of spotty paychecks and under-the-table payments, Cuti claims that on several occasions Davis illegally told employees not to file complaints with BOLI for unpaid wages and threatened to fire any staffer who discussed absent paychecks with people outside the paper. After news broke that Just Out could not pay its bills, the complaint says Davis told staff that she was going to have to "'kill someone out there' and that if the leak came from inside the office, she'd 'kill someone in here.'"
"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," says Davis. "I have absolutely no recollection of that and I cannot recall for a moment why I would say anything like that." Davis also denies fighting anyone's unemployment claims, but acknowledges that paychecks were sporadic. "I'm a newspaper trying to sell ads during a recession," she says, simply.
After negotiating through Just Out's lawyer, Cuti was paid her full $3,837 in backpay and her BOLI complaint was declared resolved. Meanwhile, Martinez appealed the state's denial of unemployment and on Saturday, May 16, received a three-page letter from the state agreeing that his situation was "so grave that he had no reasonable alternative but to leave work."
"In the end we were walking around like zombies, wondering why we were working at this place where we weren't getting paid," says Cuti. "I left my job because I knew that unemployment checks are more reliable than checks from Just Out."