LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter sued the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, claiming he was forced to quit due to “intolerable working conditions,” age discrimination and its refusal to give him his share of prize money.
Jeffrey Gottlieb accuses the Times and editor-publisher Davan Maharaj of effectively demoting him and forcing him out — though he and a colleague led a team of reporters whose stories on corruption in the City of Bell earned the paper the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Reporting in 2011.
“After winning the Pulitzer, plaintiff did not get asked to take on an investigative project again,” he says in the Superior Court complaint.
Instead, he was told he had to give up his home office to work in Orange County. In the next few years, he was assigned as the religion reporter and the backup obituaries writer, “assignments fitting someone with little experience or someone at the beginning of his or her career.”
Gottlieb, 62, calls it age discrimination. The Times and Maharaj “discharged older employees with greater frequency than younger employees, hired fewer employees who were older than 40, and gave better jobs and benefits to younger employees,” he says in the complaint. Managers also made comments to and about him “that exhibited ageist motivations, intentions, and consciousness.”
They also discriminated against him in April 2015 after he returned from several weeks of disability leave after cancer surgery, Gottlieb says.
He is represented by Carney Shegerian, who won a $7.1 million age-discrimination award against the L.A. Times last year for sports columnist T.J. Simers.
Superior Court Judge William A. MacLaughlin threw out that award in January and ordered part of the case retried. That ruling is on appeal.
Shegerian could not be reached for comment after hours Wednesday.
Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning called Gottlieb’s lawsuit “completely without merit.”
“The Times did not and does not discriminate against employees on the basis of age or any other factor,” Manning said in an emailed statement. “When we have an opportunity to defend ourselves in court, we’re confident this will become abundantly clear.”
Gottlieb’s 25-page lawsuit suggests that one motivation for the Times’ treatment of him was his repeated demand for a larger share of a $35,000 prize the Bell reporting team won from USC’s journalism school in 2011.
The Selden Ring prize is available to “full-time or freelance reporters working for a general circulation, United States newspaper, wire service, magazine or online publication,” according to the USC website. But Gottlieb says the prize check was made out to the Los Angeles Times.
He says the Times gave him and his main reporting partner, Ruben Vives, $5,000 each and gave smaller amounts to other reporters and editors. The rest, supervisors said, would be spent on a party to boost staff morale.
But Gottlieb says the party never happened, and when he repeatedly demanded an accounting of the prize money he was rebuffed.
The Washington Post interviewed Gottlieb about the prize for an article in 2013 — after which publisher Maharaj never spoke to him again. “He would pass plaintiff in the hall, glance down at his cell phone, and not say a word,” according to the lawsuit.
The Times spokeswoman would not discuss the prize money. But a journalism news website quotes an anonymous senior editor at the paper saying the Bell reporting team — except for Gottlieb — voted to give the remaining money to the Bell High School journalism program.
Bell High School principal Rafael Balderas said in an interview Wednesday that the school did seek donations for the program two years ago and that the Times responded. Journalism teacher Roy Landsdown said the Times gave $3,500, which it said came from individual reporters, including Vives..
Gottlieb seeks punitive damages for 10 causes of action, including age discrimination, family leave discrimination, harassment, retaliation, constructive termination, negligence, Labor Code violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
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