By: Lucia Moses
over severance payment
Case stemmed from the company’s 1992 sale
of the Pittsburgh Press to Blade Communications
E.W. Scripps Co. lost a lawsuit seeking $6.4 million from its former joint operating agreement (JOA) partner, Blade Communications Inc.
A July 30 jury verdict ended a 3-year-old court battle between the two Ohio-based media companies that arose from Blade’s purchase of the Pittsburgh Press from Scripps.
A Scripps spokesman says the company is considering an appeal. He declined to make further comment.
Toledo-based Blade bought the Press in 1992 after a strike by press employees earlier in the year shut down the Press and its JOA partner, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Blade folded the Press into the Post-Gazette and hired almost all of the Press’ 1,000 unionized employees following the sale.
Scripps took Blade to court in fall 1996, demanding about half of the $12.5 million in severance that Scripps says it paid to settle claims by about 375 nonunion Press employees who weren’t offered jobs by the Post-Gazette. (Of those, 245 were hired after the sale.)
Scripps claimed that Blade misled Scripps about the number of Press employees it intended to hire at the Post-Gazette. Because some employees weren’t given firm job offers before the sale, Scripps claimed, it had to pay them under its severance plan, even though most were hired immediately following the sale. Scripps said it designed its severance plan based on the understanding that Blade would make job offers to a certain number of Press employees.
After the sale closed, the 350 employees who didn’t receive severance sued Scripps for severance payments as well as unused vacation benefits. Six former Press employees filed a separate lawsuit. Scripps lost the latter suit and later settled both of the suits.
Blade, publisher of The Blade in
Toledo, countered that the contract didn’t require the Post-Gazette to hire the employees before the sale was complete.
“The truth is, they knew what they were doing all along,” says Fritz Byers, Blade’s attorney. He says Blade was pleased but not surprised at the trial’s outcome.
A eight-person jury in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in Cincinnati, where Scripps is based, rejected Scripps’ claims, also voting to require the company to pay Blade’s legal costs for the suit as well as an earlier related case, to be determined later by a judge. Blade estimates the costs at $1 million.
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