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May 12, 2003
Reporter Settles FMLA Lawsuit

A former reporter for a Honolulu television station has obtained a $175,000 settlement after suing the station and two of its executives under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

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The reporter, Mary Zanakis, claimed that KHON-TV's then-news director, Jim McCoy, and its station manager at the time, Kent Baker, violated the FMLA by essentially demoting her when she went on maternity leave in December 1998, according to a local newspaper, the Advertiser.

Under the FMLA, an employee taking leave is entitled to return to his or her same position, unless the employer demonstrates that holding open the position would impose an undue hardship

Baker and McCoy denied the allegations, explaining that Zanakis' position as producer and reporter of the medical news segment of the station's morning news show had been eliminated during her absence. Her termination, in June 1999, came as a result of budget cuts and a decline in the quality of her work, they said.

A federal-court jury agreed with Zanakis, awarding $87,000 in damages.

Zanakis also wanted an additional $770,000, saying it represented wages she would have earned if she had continued working at KHON at the $73,000 a year salary she was paid before she was fired. But a federal judge ruled that she was not entitled to the loss of future wages because she accepted a job with another station, KITV, in February 2000 for $45,000 a year.

The judge noted that Zanakis had not applied to any other Honolulu TV stations or newspapers and concluded that the salary she accepted at KITV was a reflection of her value in the news-reporter market.

He also found that McCoy and Baker had "reasonable grounds for believing that there decision (to fire Zanakis) was not a violation of (the) Family Medical and Leave Act."

Subsequently, according to the Advertiser, lawyers for the two sides agreed on a total settlement of $175,000. That amount included the cost of attorney fees.

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