Few wrongful termination suits in California or anywhere are filed by someone other than the person who was fired. However, that is what is happening in Philadelphia. Two directors of the city’s Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper are in court over the firing of the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editor.
The plaintiffs are a local philanthropist, H.F. Lenfest, and a limited partnership headed by Lewis Katz, who owns the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. They are suing the company that publishes the paper, Interstate General Media (IGM), and chief operating officer and publisher Robert Hall. They claim that the firing of the paper’s editor, William Marimow, undermines the journalistic independence of the paper and the business integrity of the company that owns it. The suit contends that the publishers did not get the required unanimous approval of the management committee of IGM to terminate Marimow.
According to the website Philly.com (which is also owned by IGM), this was Marinow’s second termination from the newspaper in just a few years. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and well-known champion of investigative journalism was the Inquirer’s editor from 2006 to 2010. He was re-hired just last year, after IGM purchased the Inquirer, in an effort to help boost morale at the troubled paper, which had undergone a bankruptcy and staffing cuts. However, the publisher was reportedly less than happy with the re-hiring and butted heads with the editor over staffing issues during his short-lived second stint at the Inquirer.
IGM is standing by its publisher’s decision to fire Marimow. It blames the lawsuit on Katz, who is a minority owner of IGM, accusing him of violating the agreement made by the owners not to interfere in journalistic and editorial decisions regarding the paper. A spokesman for the company said that a majority of the directors (who own a total of 58 percent of the company) agreed to the termination.
Although the various people who have ownership of the paper have differing opinions on who can make employment decisions, it seems this is something that should be, if it is not, spelled out clearly in writing. Regardless, with more of the nation’s newspapers falling into the hands of an increasingly small but influential group of people, we can probably expect more such controversial decisions.
Courthouse News Service, “Firestorm Over Firing of Philly Inquirer Editor” Adam Klasfeld, Oct. 14, 2013