SIERRA MADRE — An age-discrimination lawsuit filed by Mayor George Maurer against his former boss, the publisher of the Sierra Madre News, has strained the small-town loyalties of this city of 11,000.
Maurer, 67, a printer at the News for 28 years and one of the founders of the city's emergency medical response team, claims that he was fired July 12 from his job as print shop foreman because of his age.
But Jan Reed, 61, owner of the 4,000-circulation weekly that prides itself on avoiding harsh stories about the city, denies the allegations.
In this town where civic debates rage over placement of potted plants downtown, the dispute has some movers and shakers uneasily straddling the fence in an effort to stay neutral.
"I haven't tried to seek out any information," City Councilman Clem Bartolai said. "I've felt uncomfortable about it. It's kind of a touchy situation."
"I know them both, and I don't want to say anything," said another resident who asked not to be identified.
"In Sierra Madre, people will talk about it, but they will be well-mannered and won't admit that they're gossiping," resident Gurdon Miller said. "It is a well-mannered little place."
Indeed, Maurer, a 17-year Sierra Madre resident and printer for 50 years, said he has turned down two offers to set up his own print shop to avoid competing with Reed, whose print shop produces letterhead stationery, flyers and brochures. The newspaper is printed in Tujunga.
For now, Maurer works at the Only Place in Town, a Sierra Madre cafe where he hands out menus. "I'm trying to keep it as quiet as possible without antagonizing anybody," he said. "I'd like to see it settled amicably."
In the lawsuit filed Sept. 21 in Pasadena Superior Court, Maurer claims that he was never warned or given any indication that Reed was dissatisfied with his work. "It was very much of a surprise," he said of his firing.
Named in the complaint are Reed, the newspaper and Newspaper Enterprises, a limited partnersip of about 15 small investors who co-own the paper. Also named individually are limited partners Jan Maddox, a Sierra Madre hillside property owner, and Ershatt Hawk.
Mark Quigley, Maurer's attorney, said he learned that Reed was being pressured by the other partners to get rid of the older employees, beginning with Maurer, and that Reed felt Maurer's mayoral duties pulled him away from the print shop too often.
Maurer was elected to the council two years ago and now serves as mayor. The post rotates among the five council members.
However, Reed's attorney, John Golper, disputes Maurer's account. Reed and Maurer had difficulties working together and decided mutually to end Maurer's employment, Golper said. Maurer was let go for "a multitude of factors," he said. "Age is not one of them."
He also said that Reed is in her 60s and has other employees who are senior citizens. "She's not the kind of person who would discriminate on the basis of age," Golper said.
Reed, who bought the paper in 1981 and promoted Maurer from printer to plant foreman, refused to comment except to say that the paper had not previously been sued during her nine years of ownership. She called Maurer's suit "a big shock."
Maurer said filing the suit wasn't easy for him either. "But when you've done something for 50 years and all of a sudden you find yourself not doing it any longer," he said, "it's a traumatic situation financially and mentally."