Arbitrator upholds The Star's firing of Robin Miller

By Dana Knight
January 03, 2002

The firing of longtime Indianapolis Star sportswriter Robin Miller was justified due to "gross misconduct" on the job, an outside arbitrator has ruled.

In a decision handed down last week, Chicago mediator James R. Cox cited Miller's inappropriate e-mails and lack of ethics as just cause for his dismissal in January 2001 and said Miller was not entitled to severance pay.

Reasons for the firing included violating the company's electronic messaging policy with abusive e-mails to readers and defamatory e-mails about newsmakers and Star staff members. Cox also cited Miller accepting money from a race car driver whom he covered for The Star, which violated the company's ethics policy.

"As the arbitrator said very clearly in his ruling, the conflicts of interest, the lack of ethics, the lack of civility were clear violations of Star policies," said Barbara A. Henry, president and publisher of The Indianapolis Star. "(Miller) didn't have much of an argument."

Miller, who worked 33 years for The Star and covered auto racing as a writer and columnist, said Wednesday that he didn't want to comment on the ruling.

"I will say this: I miss the newspaper business. I just don't miss the people who run it," he said.

A grievance over his discharge was filed by Local 70, The Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America, which represents newsroom employees. The Star is owned by Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper company.

"I think (the ruling is) a mistake," said Marc Allan, the newspaper's TV critic and president of The Newspaper Guild. "I think a 33-year veteran employee deserved at least a warning. And I think a 33-year veteran employee deserved at least severance pay."

One of Cox's main points in his ruling involved Miller's work with driver Kenny Brack. According to the ruling, Miller formulated racing trivia questions for a Web site run by Brack, a news source whom Miller covered for The Star. He was paid $2,500 for the work, though Miller denies keeping the money.

Cox also said he "cannot overlook evidence that during 2000, Miller was working for and being paid to write promotional activity for CART" -- the Indy Racing League's competitor. Miller covered both racing series at the time.

In addition, the company tracked several of Miller's e-mail responses to readers in which he used foul language and berated critics of his work.

Cox's ruling cited other e-mails in which Miller:

  • Made derogatory remarks about community leaders, such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George and top Indianapolis Colts officials.
  • Used abusive and profane language in characterizing co-workers.
  • Transmitted pornographic material to co-workers.
  • Made racial remarks and comments about the sexual orientation of various sports newsmakers, which Cox said would limit Miller's objectivity in reporting about them.
  • The Guild argued that the comments were made to longtime friends and had no connection to the newspaper. The company argued that those comments reflected poorly on The Star.

    Guild attorney Rick Dennerline was shocked and disappointed by Cox's ruling and said the e-mails were taken out of context.

    "Most of those were made to people who were personal friends of Robin's," he said. "E-mail is just the way we communicate these days."

    The decision, however, is likely the final say in the case. It's nearly impossible to appeal a ruling by an outside mediator, Dennerline said.

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