HARTFORD (CN) – A former Hartford Courant columnist filed a free-speech lawsuit against the Tribune-owned newspaper, claiming it forced him out of his job because he refused to go easy on “major” advertisers. George Gombossy, a 40-year veteran of the Courant, claims new management took issue with his columns and blogs.
“Our suit, if successful, should result in less pressure on journalists to commit unethical acts on behalf of advertisers as media publishers will know that it will be at their peril,” Gombossy said in a statement.
The Superior Court complaint cites Connecticut’s Free Speech statute, which protects workers from being fired or punished for exercising their First Amendment rights in the workplace.
Gombossy claims that shortly after Jeff Levine was appointed the Courant’s senior vice president and director of content, he called Gombossy to his office to discuss his columns about Aeillo Plumbing. Aeillo had complained about his columns and Levine asked Gombossy to pay the company a visit and “be nice” to them, according to the complaint.
Gombossy claims he refused and told Levine the newspaper would have to fire him before he did that.
“Until late July, Gombossy published his blog without specific rules from higher management,” the lawsuit states. But in late July, Gombossy says, he was given a list of major advertisers and was told to alert Levine if he was going to publish articles about any of them.
On Aug. 3 ,after submitting an article about Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s investigation into one of the newspaper’s advertisers, Gombossy says he was called into his supervisor’s office and told his job was being eliminated. He says another, similar position was created, at half his rate of pay.
Gombossy says he was not asked to apply for the new position and was given two weeks notice. His last day was Aug. 14.
The Courant said in a statement: “George Gombossy has consistently mischaracterized the circumstances surrounding his departure from The Hartford Courant for his own personal gain. Mr. Gombossy was not under any contract requiring his continued employment as our consumer reporter and a business decision was made to move in another direction that did not require his particular talents. It was the Courant’s right to make that decision. We stand by it and we will defend it.”
Gombossy seeks lost wages and punitive damages. He since launched his own consumer Web site: CTWatchdog.com
Gombossy is represented by Joseph Garrison.