Former Citizen-Times editor files wrongful termination lawsuit

Former Citizen-Times editor files wrongful termination lawsuit-attachment0

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

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9 thoughts on “Former Citizen-Times editor files wrongful termination lawsuit

  1. ncain

    Interesting. The newspaper industry tends to attract a lot of jerks, who inevitably end up in management positions. At the last full-time reporting job I had, I resigned after I came -this close – to assaulting the metro editor after a year of shoddy treatment. I knew then it was time to make a career change.

    Gannett will settle this rather quickly for an undisclosed sum and a promise of confidentiality.

  2. Jeff Fobes

    Remember, no court has determined the validity of Ihne’s claim.

    Meanwhile, over on Ashvegas, former AC-T staffer (and current Xpress staffer) Jason Sandford has stepped onto the soap box with a few of his thoughts this morning:
    “There’s not a single word in today’s newspaper about the lawsuit. … I have yet to see the Citizen-Times run a single story about the Gannett-wide lay off of about 2,500 employees across the U.S., a major newspaper industry story. … How’s that for communication from a communications company? How’s that for credibility from a business in which credibility is the coin of the realm?”

    The rest of his post is at http://ashvegas.squarespace.com/journal/2008/12/18/ashvegas-reader-citizen-times-has-toxic-business-climate.html

    Over at Jim Hopkins’ Gannett Blog, commenters are beating up on Hammer, while a few have called Ihne a whiner. Hopkins says he asked Hammer for his comments.
    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8099437767970534324&postID=424057403077856139

  3. ncain

    “Remember, no court has determined the validity of Ihne’s claim.”

    Lawsuits with no validity still end up getting settled all the time. Even if she made it all up, which I kind of doubt, it’s cheaper for Gannett to pay than to risk getting it in front of a jury and potentially lose $15 million or more. (Even though a verdict of that much would be extremely unlikely. They’re trying to scare the suits by asking for that much).

  4. AvlResident

    Question for Jeff Forbes, is it usual to have a reporter/editor, in this case Jason Sandford, covering/commenting issues/stories on his own, independent blog, while also sometimes covering those stories for the newspaper he works for? Mr. Sandford does a wonderful job at both outlets but it seems a slight conflict of interest. Could he comment/cover stores about Mountain Express on Ashvegas? Can he “break” news first on Ashvegas or is he required to give the “scoop” to Mountain Express? Other possible conflicts?

  5. Jeff Fobes

    Some responses to AvlResident’s good question:

    Nothing much feels “usual” anymore with journalism, since the Internet blogosphere built up its head of virtual steam.

    But there are still journalistic rules of thumb, assumptions, working guidelines. I think they’re being tested and evolved as we go, though.

    Yet, isn’t the local arena the best place to test principles, where readers, citizens, activists, politicians get to know one another much better? Locally, we track stories and activities more over time, and we do so with more passion — because this is where we live! We learn who’s honest, who has what sort of character, who has what strengths and weaknesses.

    Jason’s activity on Ashvegas and Xpress are definitely a work in progress. His many years working within mainstream media (along with his natural and professional talents) give him a solid understanding of basic ethics and pitfalls of reporting. He began his “dual media citizenship” years ago, blogging anonymously while working at the Citizen-Times. It was pretty clear that he was a journalist with passion who wanted to grow and try new stuff. He came to Xpress with the understanding that he’d continue his double role while he reports for Xpress.

    Are there conflicts and confusing boundaries? Sure. I’ll bet Jason could give us some fun and illuminating examples.

    There are times I look at Ashvegas’ coverage and wish it were on Xpress. But then, isn’t that a natural childlike response, to want all the toys? Well, these days the Internet is decentralizing; the big media guys are taking it on the chin. Xpress will do better (and be wiser and more gracious) to help decentralize, rather than institutionalize.

    Anyow, Jason’s exploring and experimenting. We’re all learning. Asheville is benefiting.

    The fact is no one knows where media are headed. We need experimentation, exploration. And new partnerships, lots of these. In these aspects, I count what’s going on with Xpress and Ashvegas (though I can’t define it too well) as a valuable and insightful success.

    In general, Jason does his “investigative” local reporting on Xpress first. But he’s experimenting on Ashvegas, and no one necessarily knows what “new” approaches to reporting will evolve into crucial contributions. We can already see that Ashvegas brings a lot to the table and already does its share of scooping.

    All over the country (and world, I figure), professional reporters are exploring dual (triple? quadruple?) roles. There are conflicts when a journalist engages in news reporting and blogging — even when the blog is on the news outlet’s site, let alone independently. There are going to be mistakes and misunderstandings.

    Don’t you think, though, that these unusual and sometimes conflicting associations are an important part of our growth and learning process? I’ll bet you enjoy the uncertainty and adventure evident in journalism on the Internet.

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