Firing of 'Inky' Sports Columnist Stephen Smith 'Unjust,' Arbitrator Rules

By: E&P Staff The January 2008 firing of Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Stephen Smith was unjust and violated the collective bargaining agreement with the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild, an arbitrator has ruled.

Arbitrator Richard R. Kasher ordered Philadelphia Newspapers, publisher of the Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, to negotiate "an appropriate remedy" that could include a return of Smith as columnist and back pay, according to an account on the national Newspaper Guild's Web site by the editor of the Guild Reporter, Andy Zipser.

Smith, who was a columnist at the paper for 13 years, frequently appeared as a guest radio and television commentator, and in 2005 was offered a daily show by ESPN. Smith asked to the newspaper to modify his contract so that he could do the show and continue to write a column.

According to the Guild account, the news agreement called for Smith to write a minimum of 75 columns a year for an annual salary of $125,000. At the end of one year, in February of 2006, Smith would have the option of resigning, of extending the agreement, or of returning as a full-time columnist, at a salary of $190,000.

The Guild reported the contract said if he went back to full-time employment, his salary would increase to $205,000 in June 2006, and to $225,000 in June 2007. Smith ultimately chose to return to work at the paper full-time.

With newsroom layoffs taking place at the beginning of 2007, Editor William Marimow balked at awarding a $20,000 raise.

The newspaper maintains that Smith was then "reassigned" from a columnist to a general assignment reporter, a step the paper maintained was not a demotion.


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