A longtime reporter for the independent publication Navy Times was fired last year because he was in the process of reenlisting in the military, according to a lawsuit filed in California last month. The suit alleges the publication broke a federal law protecting employees who serve.
Mark Faram, who most recently covered Navy personnel issues, worked for the Military Times papers for 27 years. Over the course of his employment, Faram had previously served in the Army National Guard in Virginia and Maryland between 1993 and 1996, and as a Navy reservist from 2000 to 2006, according to public court documents in the lawsuit.
But on Aug. 2, 2019, while waiting for a medical waiver for an artificial hip that would allow him to reenlist and complete requirements for military retirement, Faram, 60, was notified by Military Times Executive Editor Andrew Tilghman and a human resources representative that his attempts to get the waiver and rejoin the Navy violated the paper's conflict-of-interest policy, the suit states.
A federal law, known as the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, blocks employers from discriminating against workers based on their service in the military. The suit alleges that Navy Times and its owner broke that law by firing Faram.
Related: USERRA Frequently Asked Questions
Mega International LLC, the California-based company that owns the Military Times papers, including Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times, Air Force Times and Defense News, is the sole defendant named in the lawsuit.
Tilghman said Faram was not fired for the reasons cited in the lawsuit.
"The Military Times has a long history of supporting the military and those who serve in it, including Mark Faram. Our staff of journalists includes many veterans, military spouses and others with current and past relationships with the Defense Department," he said in an email to Military.com. "The Military Times denies Mr. Faram's allegations; he was not terminated for the reason he alleges. We cannot comment further because this involves ongoing litigation."
Several members of the Military.com staff, including this reporter, have previously been employed by the Military Times papers. Staff members have also worked with and are friendly with Faram and Tilghman. Faram also briefly worked for Military.com.
According to the suit, Tilghman told Faram, who regularly reported on then-Navy personnel chief Vice. Adm. Robert Burke, that he had violated a company conflict-of-interest policy by "currying favor" while waiting for the waiver.
"'You asked the chief of naval personnel for waivers and that is asking for a favor,'" the document alleges Tilghman said. It claims he then told Faram, "'The newsroom is no longer comfortable publishing any of your stories after what you did.'"
Abigale Arellano, a human resources representative for the company, also claimed Faram violated newsroom policy, the documents state.
"Think about it, Mark, you are the personnel reporter for Navy Times, and you are trying to join the Navy while you are covering the chief of naval personnel who is in charge of recruiting. That is a violation of our conflict of interest policy," she said, according to the suit.
"Ms. Arellano then informed Plaintiff that for this reason, employment was being terminated immediately and that he would be offered no transition benefits except for what was required by law," it states.
On Aug. 6, four days after Faram was fired, he received an email from the company offering him severance of one week's salary -- $1,584 -- minus taxes and other withholdings if he signed paperwork revoking any claims, according to the suit. Faram did not accept the offer, his lawyer, Brian Lawler, told Military.com.
A ban against personal conflicts of interest is standard company policy across news publications, including Military.com.
Faram has since been granted the waiver and reenlisted with the Navy Reserve in November, said Lawler, who specializes in USERRA suits. Faram is currently serving on active-duty special work orders with the Chief of Naval Personnel in the Washington, D.C., region, according to Navy Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a Chief of Navy Personnel spokesman.
Faram declined via his attorney to comment on the suit.
"Mr. Faram has chosen to exercise and invoke his rights under a federal statute," Lawler said.
Hecht also declined to comment on specifics of the suit, including whether Faram's coverage of Burke and the Navy personnel office influenced his ability to get a medical waiver for his hip.
"It is inappropriate for me to comment on the specifics of a service member's personal matters due to privacy," Hecht said via email.
Hip replacement waivers, he said, are granted on a "case-by-case review" based on a variety of factors, including the position for which the person is applying, their skill set, training requirements and whether their specific job would "require completing the running portion in a physical readiness test or other repetitive impact activities."
The suit, which was filed Oct. 17, does not seek a specific dollar amount, but instead asks for all lost employment benefits, all lost wages plus interest, and coverage of attorney and court fees, according to the documents. It also asks the court to declare that Faram's USERRA rights were violated by the papers' parent company, Mega.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.