Ex-Reporter Sues Embattled Santa Barbara Paper for Overtime Pay

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A former reporter for the embattled Santa Barbara News-Press sued the paper Wednesday, claiming it failed to keep accurate time records and stiffed employees out of overtime pay.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for as many as 200 past and present employees.

The suit claims the newspaper failed to pay overtime to employees who worked more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours a week. It alleges the News-Press didn’t provide its employees with meal and rest periods required by California law.

”It is common for employers to unintentionally violate technical violation of California’s strict employment laws,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Bruce Anticouni, who filed the lawsuit in Santa Barbara Superior Court. ”However, in my opinion, the alleged News-Press violations appear to have been willful, which would allow for the award of penalties to the affected employees.”

The legal action marks the latest in a bitter dispute between employees and owner Wendy McCaw. A total of 16 employees have resigned since July, when nearly every top editor quit amid complaints that McCaw meddled in the newsroom.

McCaw’s spokeswoman, Agnes Huff, said she couldn’t comment because the newspaper’s attorneys hadn’t seen the lawsuit.

Last week, the newspaper filed objections with the National Labor Relations Board over a Sept. 27 election in which employees decided 33-6 to join the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The paper accused the union of coercing employees and circulating false and misleading information about the newspaper.

Attorney Ira Gottlieb, who represents the workers, rejected the claims, saying the election had been conducted fairly.

Many of the employees who resigned said McCaw intervened to nix a story about the drunken driving sentencing of editorial page editor Travis Armstrong, as well as reprimanding staff for publishing the address where actor Rob Lowe wants to build a mansion.

McCaw has countered that the former employees had injected their personal views into news coverage.

The News-Press is a 41,000-circulation daily. It has about 50 newsroom employees among a 206-person work force.

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