T.J. Simers sues LA Times, alleges he was pushed out and told to go easy on McCourt *

Thumbnail image for simers-howard-grab.jpgThe other shoe has fallen in T.J. Simers' move from the Los Angeles Times to the Orange County Register — and his allegation that Times editors told him to stop mocking Frank McCourt and Arte Moreno so much. Simers claims in a suit filed in Los Angeled Superior Court that he was actually demoted then fired by the Times due to his age and a medical condition. He says that his relationship with the paper changed after McCourt, then the Dodgers owner, met with Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein in 2011, and grew worse after Simers was diagnosed in March with complex migraine syndrome. The suit names the company, editors Davan Maharaj and Marc Duvoisin (but not, notably, the Sports editor) and McCourt. I'm seeking a response from Maharaj and Duvoisin, the paper's top two editors.

Courthouse News was the first media outlet to pick up on it, far as I can tell. Excerpt:

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."


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.

Simers' suit says, however, that he never sold his rights to anyone. The suit sheds some light on what was going on when Simers' LAT column suddenly went dark this summer. According to Simers, Maharaj and Duvoisin accused him of violating the company's ethics codes by pitching scripts to Hollywood. Then 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, according to Courthouse News. "Plaintiff Simers believes and alleges that defendants' true reasons for terminating his employment were his age, his disability, and his medical leave," the lawsuit says.

* Times responds after all, on the paper's website: "'We wished T.J. Simers well when he left the L.A. Times to write for the O.C. Register and continue to do so,' Nancy Sullivan, The Times’ vice president of communications, said in a statement. 'But, the claims in his lawsuit are without merit. As this is now an ongoing litigation, we will defer further comment.'” The LAT story also says that McCourt declined comment through a spokesman.

Previously on LA Observed:
Simers explains why he's going to the Register
LA Times staff told (tersely) that T.J. Simers is leaving
Sports scribes abuzz with speculation about TJ Simers

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent LAT stories on LA Observed:
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Here's who the LA Times has newly hired*
New seasons of SoCal Connected, Lost LA on KCET
LA Observed Notes: Times hiring binge, LA Weekly investor sues, media tidbits
LA Observed Notes: Editor moves, NYT steps on JGold turf, jobs and more
Jonathan Gold, LA's preeminent food writer, has died at 57