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Sports Columnist Rests in Fight With LA Times

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Retired sports columnist T.J. Simers rested his employment discrimination case on Monday as he seeks $18 million in damages from the LA Times.

Simers, 65, sued the Times two years ago, claiming the paper pushed him out after he suffered a "mini-stroke" in Phoenix, where he was covering spring training for the Dodgers and Angels baseball teams. Simers said he was later diagnosed with complex migraine syndrome.

Now in the sixth week of trial, Simers rested his case on Monday morning, shortly after his wife Ginny Simers testified.

Ginny Simers said her husband is a shadow of his former self since he left the Times in 2013 and then quit his next job as a columnist for the Orange County Register.

Los Angeles Times' attorney Linda Savitt asked Ginny Simers if her husband's health problems between 2013, when he suffered from the collapse, and the following year when he was diagnosed with shingles and skin cancer caused him emotional distress.

"No," she replied.

After Simers' attorney Courtney Rowley asked her to elaborate, Ginny Simers said that it was the end of her husband's career as a columnist that hit him hardest.

"The stress came from not working at the LA Times," she said. "He's a completely different person. He doesn't have any focus."

She said that sometimes Simers does not shower and said conversations with her husband are "difficult" because he has nothing to talk about now that he no longer writes columns.

"Why wouldn't you get up and take a shower and get going?" she said. "But he doesn't have anything to get going to."

The Times claims that Simers was not forced out of the paper but that editors Marc Duvoisin and Davan Maharaj, who were present in the courtroom, asked him to stay on an extended contract.

The 12 members of the jury have heard that Simers' columns were cut to two a week from three, with the Times saying it felt that decreasing his workload would improve the quality of his columns.

Ginny Simers said that at two meetings just months after his collapse, Times management told Simers that his writing had been poor. But a few months before he had received a glowing evaluation from the newspaper, she said.

The Times says it investigated Simers for a potential conflict of interest after it emerged that he had been in talks with Hollywood producer Mike Tollin to develop a television show and shot a video interview with Los Angeles Laker Dwight Howard that was shot by Tollin's production company.

Simers, however, says the investigation was motivated by the newspaper's desire to get rid of him because of his age and health problems.

His wife said that he left without signing a new contract with the Times because he felt the newspaper would find a reason to force him out.

"He didn't feel he could trust that the people in charge and the editors would have his back," Ginny Simers told the jury.

Savitt asked her about a June 2013 Sports Business Journal article that broke news of a television comedy based on one of Simers' ideas.

"I didn't even read his column. Why would I read somebody else's?" she said to laughter from the court.

Simers retired his Register column last year after the paper offered to buy him out. He made $234,000 a year at the Times and collected a salary of $190,000 at the Register, the court has heard. Simers receives a $24,000 yearly pension from the Times, Ginny Simers testified.

After Simers walked to the back of the courtroom to sit with his wife, his lawyers announced that they were resting their case.

Before lunch, Savitt urged the court to dismiss multiple counts of Simers' lawsuit.

Savitt argued that Simers had testified that he had constructively quit, that there was no evidence to support harassment and that it was reasonable for the Times to ask Simers why he had not told the newspaper about the television script.

"What happened in this case was an investigation based on the Sports Business Journal article," Savitt said.

There was no evidence of harassment or discrimination, Savitt added.

"He hasn't made the statutory showing, and in fact he testified that he never complained of discrimination or harassment," Savitt said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin said he would take the motion under submission.

In the afternoon, Los Angeles Times deputy sports editor John Cherwa took the stand to testify as a defense witness.

The editor said that the Times is aware that its print edition, which he estimates has 500,000 to 600,000 subscribers, is not "going to be around forever" and the paper is focused web content "because it's our future."

He testified that he would encourage Simers to produce content for the web but that the writer was resistant.

"He said, 'I'm a print guy,'" Cherwa testified.

Cherwa described an incident a few months after Simers' collapse that caused some friction between the writer and editor. While covering the LA Clippers basketball team in Memphis, Simers had used the term Rathole, Tenn. in the dateline of the story.

Cherwa said that he initially found the term "cute" but felt that its repeated use in the body of the article was too "low brow" for the Times.

The editor testified that Simers agreed that he was overusing it but then included it in copy that he filed. Simers was unhappy when the editor removed the term from his copy, the jury heard.

"'I'm officially pissed off,'" Simers wrote to Cherwa in a May 3, 2013, email that was shown to the court.

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