Jenkins, NPR face federal suit |

Jenkins, NPR face federal suit

Allyn Harvey

Former Aspen Times editor and publisher Loren Jenkins has been accused of racial and religious discrimination in a lawsuit filed by a former reporter at National Public Radio.

Jenkins, who ran the Times from 1992 to early 1996, and National Public Radio are being sued by Sunni Kahlid, former correspondent for NPR. The case is scheduled to go to trial May 8 in federal district court for the District of Columbia.

Kahlid was NPR’s Cairo correspondent when Jenkins took over the news organization’s foreign desk in 1996. An African American and Muslim, Kahlid alleges the former Times editor made derogatory comments about his faith, assigned his story ideas to white reporters, and used his authority as foreign desk editor to hamper Kahlid’s ability to the job.

Kahlid, who was recalled to Washington, D.C. shortly after Jenkins arrived, said he was driven to resign after working with Jenkins for a short time. His attorney, Lynne Bernabei, said senior management at NPR is also culpable, because it did nothing to stop Jenkins’ alleged harassment.

Former Aspen Times co-publisher Michael McVoy was called by Bernabei’s firm Thursday and told to expect a subpoena for all of the newspaper’s employment and other “relevant” records for Jenkins. McVoy declined comment about either Jenkins or the subpoena.

Although Jenkins wasn’t willing to comment directly about the lawsuit, he did call the subpoena of Aspen Times records a “fishing expedition.

“Whatever they’re looking for at Full Court Press [the Times’ former owner] is irrelevant. There weren’t even any minorities working there when I was editor,” he said.

To win his case, Kahlid, now a media relations director at an organization promoting coverage of Africa, will have convince the court that NPR’s CEO at the time, Delano Lewis, is also a racist. Lewis, like Kahlid, is an African American. Jenkins said Lewis is currently the U.S. ambassador to South Africa.

Kahlid may also be required to answer questions about his decision to hire legal counsel and his reportedly threatening legal action while still employed at NPR.

It is not clear whether the financial settlement that followed Kahlid’s resignation will come up at trial.

But Burnabei insists the case against the organization is strong. She said management made only half-hearted attempts to rectify Kahlid’s problems, briefly assigning an assistant editor to oversee his work.

“There has always been a problem at NPR in terms of advancement for minorities and women, and the percentage of minorities working there has gone down,” she said.

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