A group of eight former employees from The Cincinnati Enquirer filed an amended lawsuit Oct. 19 accusing the Gannett-owned newspaper of age discrimination. The lawsuit, which was originally filed by Joseph Fenton and Catherine Reutter in 2011, was amended on Oct. 19 to include six more plaintiffs.
The origins of the complaint, which also alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, began
when Fenton was allegedly told he was performing poorly at The Enquirer.
On November 2010, Fenton was “suddenly informed” by his supervisor,
Julie Engebrecht, that his performance was unsatisfactory. This was
despite Engebrecht allegedly acknowledging that Fenton was a “great
editor” in the same conversation.
From that point, Fenton allegedly tried to smooth problems
over. Working through human resources, Fenton arranged weekly meetings
with Engebrecht to gather feedback and improve his work, according to
the lawsuit. At the end of every meeting, Fenton and Engebrecht
allegedly worked out goals and Fenton would finish the meetings by asking, “Are we
good?” Allegedly, Engebrecht replied by assuring Fenton “things were in
Despite the meetings, Fenton was fired on Feb. 18, 2011. He was 57, and he had worked for Gannett (Correction: Previously said The Enquirer) for 14 years, according to the lawsuit. The complaint also says Fenton had no previous record of discipline, but Engebrecht had allegedly referred to Fenton as a “dinosaur” and “curmudgeon.”
When he was terminated, at least seven other individuals — all “near or over the age of 50” — at The Enquirer were laid off as well, according to the lawsuit. Reutter, a co-filer of the lawsuit, was among those terminated. Three of the employees terminated worked for the online department, and they were allegedly replaced by “an employee in his 20s who was hired in January 2011.”
This is all despite Fenton having a history of “high-quality work” at The Enquirer,
according to the complaint: “Two (of his) projects were nominated for
the Pulitzer Prize. Upon information and belief, these (two) projects
were the only (two) nominated for the Pulitzer Prize from The Cincinnati Enquirer
during Fenton’s tenure there.” Fenton also directed projects that won
Best of Gannett awards in 2006 and 2008 in a competition with the
company’s 83 other U.S. newspapers, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to make similar claims for the other former employees involved in the lawsuit. They were all 45 years old or older when terminated, and most claim younger, less qualified employees replaced them.
However, in the factual allegations for Reutter, it’s explained a 49-year-old replaced some of the employees. The lawsuit notes the employee is younger than Reutter, but that employee is actually four years older than the youngest plaintiff was when terminated.
The complaint claims Reutter was told in her exit interview “seniority was a factor in the choice of who was terminated.”
Mitt Romney was criticized for wanting to “kill Big Bird” due to his proposed cuts to publicly funded media, and now City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. could face similar criticism. In his 2013 budget proposal, Dohoney suggested eliminating $300,000 in support to Media Bridges, an organization that provides public access TV and radio stations in Cincinnati.
Tom Bishop, executive director of Media Bridges, called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget. He described dire circumstances in which Ohio originally cut funding to Media Bridges in June 2011, leaving the organization with $198,000 from remaining money in the state fund and $300,000 from Cincinnati’s general fund. The state fund was provided by Time Warner Cable, and lobbying from the cable company is what eventually led to the fund’s elimination. The end of the Time Warner fund cut Media Bridges’ budget by one-third, forcing the organization to change facilities to make ends meet with less space.
With the city manager proposing to cut the city’s $300,000 in funding, Media Bridges is essentially losing $498,000 in 2013. Bishop says that’s about 85 percent of the organization’s budget — a financial gap that would be practically impossible to overcome. “If it’s a complete cut, we’re looking at liquidation,” says Bishop.
When it was notified of the changes a few months ago, Media Bridges gave an alternative plan to the mayor’s office that keeps $300,000 in funding every year after a six-month transition period. But even that plan isn’t ideal, according to Bishop. It would force Media Bridges to cut four staff members, become more dependent on automation and charge $200 a year for memberships with a sliding scale for low-income members.
Media Bridges will be reaching out to the public, mayor and
council members in the coming weeks to draw support in fighting the cuts.
At the government meetings, Bishop will make the plea that public access outlets are important for low-income families. He says it’s true that the Internet and cable television have expanded media options for the public, but, according to the 2010 Greater Cincinnati Survey, more than 40 percent of people in Cincinnati don’t have access to broadband. That’s a large amount of the population that will be left without a way to easily speak out in media if Media Bridges funding is dissolved.
In a world of saturated media, Bishop rhetorically asked why four TV channels that do a public service would need to be targeted: “Does it seem so ridiculous that the people should have a tiny bit of that bandwidth so that they can communicate with the community, share cultural events, share what’s going on in the community and participate politically?”
He added the organization also provides educational access, which allows institutions like the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Public Schools and various private schools to reach out to the community.
Media Bridges also sees the cuts as a bit unfair relative to other budget items. Bishop acknowledges “fiscal times are hard,” but he pointed out CitiCable, which broadcasts City Council meetings and other educational services, is getting more than $750,000 in the proposed budget to run one TV channel, while Media Bridges isn't getting $300,000 to run four TV channels and a radio station. He praised CitiCable — “Those guys do a great job over there; they provide a great service” — but he also says the disproportionate cuts are “just not right.”
The cuts to Media Bridges are some of many adjustments in the budget proposal by Dohoney. To balance Cincinnati’s estimated $34 million deficit, Dohoney suggested pursuing privatizing parking services and other cuts, including the elimination of the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol unit and a $610,770 reduction to human services funding.
Update (Nov. 30, 3:45 p.m.): Meg Olberding, spokesperson for the city manager's office, called back CityBeat after this story was published. She explained Media Bridges was a target for cuts for two reasons: The program was ranked low in importance in public feedback gathered during the priority-driven budget process, and Media Bridges isn't seen as a core city service.
Olberding also said that while some funding does flow through the city to CitiCable, that money has always come from franchise fees from Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner. In the case of Media Bridges, the city was not funding the program until it picked up the tab in 2011. Until that point, Media Bridges was funded through the now-gone Time Warner fund. Only after funding was lost did the city government provide a “one-year reprieve” in the general fund to keep Media Bridges afloat, according to Olberding.
(**UPDATE AT BOTTOM)
The Enquirer’s sole remaining editorial writer is among the employees who will be departing the newspaper as part of a round of “early retirement” buyouts.
Executives accepted the buyout application submitted by Ray Cooklis, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, multiple sources have confirmed. Cooklis assumed control of The Enquirer’s Op/Ed pages in July 2009 when his predecessor, David Wells, was laid off.
Cooklis, who also is a classically trained pianist and previously served as a music critic, didn’t respond to an email this morning seeking comment.
In recent months, the daily newspaper has been criticized in journalism circles and on some blogs for only publishing one original, locally produced editorial a week, so it’s unclear what impact Cooklis’ departure will have.
Sources say others who are leaving The Enquirer include Features Editor Dave Caudill; photographer Glenn Hartong; reporter Steve Kemme, who covers eastern Hamilton County; Copy Desk Chief Sue Lancaster; Bill Thompson, a sports copy editor and occasional music critic; and Copy Editor Tim Vondebrink.
CityBeat confirmed Tuesday that political columnist Howard Wilkinson and longtime photographer Michael Keating also were leaving the newspaper.
The Gannett Co., The Enquirer’s corporate owner, announced the buyout offer Feb. 9 and gave employees 45 days to decide whether to apply for the deal.
Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. The Enquirer’s goal is to eliminate 26 positions through the buyouts, sources said.
As part of reductions mandated by Gannett, The Enquirer has laid off about 150 workers during the past two years. Also, employees have had to take five unpaid furloughs during the past three years.
Of the departures announced so far, Cooklis’ resignation could have the most immediate impact for readers.
Some progressive voices in Cincinnati dislike Cooklis because he is ardently right-wing in his opinions; they believe he too frequently blasted Democratic politicians, while turning a blind eye to excesses by their Republican counterparts and local corporations. Further, Cooklis lacked the courage to criticize some of the people and institutions that are among The Enquirer's many sacred cows, they added.
Still, Cooklis’ departure is a bad omen for local news, with some media observers worried that it means The Enquirer has abandoned its First Amendment duty to hold powerful people accountable for their deeds.
Virginia-based Gannett also owns USA Today, more than 100 newspapers nationwide and 23 TV stations.
(**UPDATE: Glenn Hartong is not taking the buyout. Despite some sources at The Enquirer saying that he was, Hartong is only 51 years old and, thus, ineligible.)
I killed a spider today with astringent. I didn’t know you could kill spiders with astringent until today. But there it was, chilling in my bathroom while I was taking a piss. My first instinct was to douse it with some kind of liquid, and barring the source of liquid currently in my hands, the only other thing within reach was a bottle of astringent sitting on the bathroom sink.
It’s not quite as bad as a pink slip from an unexpected layoff, but the latest action at the troubled Cincinnati Enquirer certainly isn’t good news for its workers.
If you thought the McCarthy era witch hunts were over, you are sadly mistaken. Welcome back to 1950!
After TV host Glenn Beck’s attack on Van Jones resulted in Jones resigning from the Obama administration, it seems to be open season and now Fox News -- the “fair and balanced” news channel with a political agenda -- kicked its game up a notch this week in its attempts to discredit and destroy more of President Barack Obama’s advisers.
After CityBeat was criticized for “factual errors” in an article about The Cincinnati Enquirer’s new social media strategy by one of that newspaper’s editors, we offered her the opportunity early Thursday to elaborate and she responded today.
The scion of a Cincinnati political dynasty is starting to make it big in Hollywood.
Jesse Luken, the grandson of ex-Congressman Tom Luken and the nephew of former Mayor Charlie Luken, has recently landed notable roles on TV and film.
Luken recently had a recurring role on the third season of Justified on the FX cable network. He played Jimmy, a Mohawk-wearing young thug in the gang led by Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
Now Luken has been cast in 42, the big-screen biopic about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. Luken will portray Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Eddie Stanky in the film, which is due to be released on April 12, 2013. The release is timed to coincide with MLB's Jackie Robinson Day, held every April 15 to commemorate the date in 1947 when Robinson played his first game with the Dodgers.
The film, named after the number worn by Robinson, also features Chadwick Boseman in the title role; Harrison Ford as Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson; and Christopher Meloni as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher.
Luken is a Colorado Springs, Colo., native who previously had guest roles on the TV series NCIS, Law and Order: L.A. and Greek.