In a $15 million wrongful termination lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Asheville Citizen-Times, former Executive Editor Susan Ihne claims the newspaper’s publisher bullied and harassed her.
The lawsuit names as defendants “Gannett Co., Inc. d/b/a Asheville Citizen-Times and Randy Hammer.” Publisher Randy Hammer couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The lawsuit comes amidst a tumultuous time at the Citizen-Times and for its owner, the Gannett Co., as newspaper companies struggle with declining revenues. About two weeks ago, Gannett-owned newspapers around the U.S. cut about 2,500 jobs, including 16 in Asheville.
The Citizen-Times has also increased the price of single copies from 50 cents to 75 cents and announced that another 60 employees would lose their jobs when the newspaper closes its printing plant in January. The newspaper will be printed in Greenville, S.C., where Gannett owns the The Greenville News.
In her lawsuit, filed in Buncombe County Superior Court, Ihne charges that Hammer began harassing and bullying her six weeks after he joined the newspaper in October 2007. The lawsuit states “that this harassment and bullying consisted of yelling and raising his voice at the Plaintiff, belittling and degrading her on the job, and misusing his power in a calculated effort to destroy her self-confidence and get her to resign from her job.”
In one instance, Ihne claims, Hammer yelled at her in a one-on-one meeting “in an attempt to frighten and terrify her.” Other times, Hammer would refer to her with “pejorative names, such as ‘nasty person’,” according to the lawsuit.
In her lawsuit, Ihne also claims that Hammer threatened her job and ordered her not to call corporate headquarters concerning him, and ordered her not to forward his e-mails without his permission. Ihne charges that, in one instance, Hammer also undermined her leadership by telling a project team they’d done a good job, then telling her she’d done “a lousy job” as team leader. Hammer “created a hostile work environment by his abusive conduct,” according to the lawsuit.
Ihne informed upper management inside Gannett of Hammer’s conduct, according to the lawsuit, but the company is charged with failing to take action and is thus being liable. The lawsuit goes on to state that Ihne was fired on May 1, claiming the termination was “due to age discrimination and sex discrimination.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Winston-Salem firm of Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy & Kennedy, which specializes in wrongful termination suits.
Ihne joined the Citizen-Times in October 2005. In a 27-year career with Gannett, Ihne worked for a number of newspapers as a reporter and manager. She was awarded the Gannett’s top honor for an editor — a President’s Ring — in 1999 and again in 2005. In Asheville, Ihne supervised about 62 full-time news-department employees at the 50,000-circulation newspaper.
Before coming to Asheville, Hammer worked as vice president/audience-and-content at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. He began his newspaper career as a sportswriter and was also a multiple winner of President Ring honors at Gannett.
Click here to read Ihne’s lawsuit.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor