LOS ANGELES (CN) – Veteran sports columnist T.J. Simers sued the Los Angeles Times for discrimination and wrongful firing, claiming he was warned to “go easy” on former Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt because of McCourt’s relationship with the newspaper’s publisher.
Simers, 63, sued the Times, its corporate parent Tribune and affiliates, Times editors Marc Duvoisin and Davan Maharaj, and Frank McCourt, in Superior Court.
Simers worked at the Times for more than two decades, for the past 13 years as a sports columnist.
He suffers from a complex migraine syndrome, a condition his employers knew about when they pushed him out of the company in September, according to his lawsuit.
Simers says his troubles began in 2011 after McCourt met with Times publisher Eddie Hartenstein.
Simers claims he was told he might lose his job if he wrote about a charity close to his heart, the Mattel Children’s Charity. He says he learned he was warned to stay off the subject because of concerns that he was encouraging Dodgers players to donate to Mattel instead of to McCourt’s Dodgers charity.
Simers says he and three other writers were told not to write pieces critical of McCourt.
“Plaintiff was told to ‘go easy’ and ‘don’t be tough’ when writing about defendant McCourt in plaintiff’s columns,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff believes defendant McCourt initiated orders to stop negative press to be written about him through his relationship with Times publisher, Eddie Hartenstein.”
Hartenstein is not a party to the lawsuit.
Simers says things took a turn for the worse when he told his bosses about his migraine diagnosis in March this year.
Duvoisin reduced Simers’ weekly columns from three to one and expressed “serious concerns and criticism” about an article Simers wrote about the Anaheim Angels and their owner Arte Moreno, the complaint states. It notes that the Angels buy ad space on the Times website.
Simers claims his column was put on hold in June while he took time off to recover from his condition.
Things came to a head, Simers says, when he appeared in video with his daughter shooting hoops with Los Angeles Laker Dwight Howard – uploaded by a company called Mandalay Sports Entertainment.
After the video went viral, Mandalay announced plans to make a television show about Simers’ family.
Simers claims that Duvoisin and Maharaj investigated him after a “third party” claimed in an article to be making a TV show about Simers’ life.
But Simers says in the complaint that he “never granted the rights to his life story to anyone.”
He claims that Duvoisin and Maharaj accused him of violating the company’s ethics codes by pitching scripts to Hollywood. Then, he says, he was demoted to the general assignment desk, and offered a one-year contract as a columnist that the Times could terminate at any time. A meeting with Duvoisin and Maharaj to improve his work conditions came to nothing, Simers says. His company phone was turned off and he received his final paycheck last month.
“Plaintiff Simers believes and alleges that defendants’ true reasons for terminating his employment were his age, his disability, and his medical leave,” the complaint states.
Simers seeks exemplary damages for discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, negligent and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, breach of faith and other counts.
He is represented by Carney Shegerian with Shegerian & Associates of Santa Monica.
Simers now writes a column for the Orange County Register.
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