By: Joe Strupp
The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, which fired a staff writer in May for writing an anonymous letter to the Pulitzer Prize Board claiming the newspaper’s “Coingate” series was tainted, withdrew its appeal of the former employee’s unemployment claim, which could have forced him to return some $2,700 in benefits he received.
The ex-staffer, George Tanber, said the paper’s decision to drop its challenge of his right to the benefits now clears the way for him to take his own legal action against the paper, which he contends unlawfully terminated him when he was fired.
“It gives me a better chance at a civil action,” Tanber said Monday. “I’m glad they dropped their appeal and conceded the state’s ruling that I was wrongfully fired.”
Blade managing editor Lu Ann Sharp, who has acted as a spokeswoman for the paper, said the paper did not feel the appeal was worth continuing since Tanber’s 26 weeks of eligibility had run out. “It is not worth monkeying around with,” she said. “We still say we made the right decision, but we want to put it behind us.”
Tanber, a 14-year Blade veteran, was fired May 26, two days after he admitted writing the Pulitzer letter, which prompted the Pulitzer board to investigate his claim that the paper knew elements of the ‘Coingate’ scandal, but did not disclose them.
The anonymous letter, an eight-page document dated March 28, was titled “Deception and Coverup Taint Award-Winning Coingate Series.” It claimed, among other things, that the Blade was aware of alleged illegal campaign contributions by GOP fundraiser Tom Noe prior to the 2004 presidential election. Noe was the chief architect of the Coingate scandal in which tens of millions of dollars in state funds were lost in a rare coin investment scheme that resulted in several convictions, including that of Noe.
Pulitzer officials said at the time that the anonymous complaint had no impact on the Pulitzer Board’s decision not to award the series a prize, although it was named a finalist in the Pubic Service category.
After Tanber was fired, he filed for unemployment insurance. The state Office of Unemployment Compensation ruled in June that he was entitled to benefits after being terminated. The newspaper appealed the ruling in August, which sparked a number of hearings on the issue before the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission. The next hearing was set for Dec. 14.
But Tanber received word that the paper had dropped its appeal last week. The notice of withdrawal includes no reason for the action, stating only that the paper “executed a request to withdraw the appeal.”
The Blade, meanwhile, remains caught in a dispute with six of its eight unions. Five of the local units have been locked out since late August, while the sixth, the Newspaper Guild, continues to work without a contract. Sharp said no changes have occurrd with any of the unions, noting that the guild has not negotiated with the paper in about one month.