Jeff Gottlieb, center, with LA Times reporters Paloma Esquivel and Ruben Vives in 2011. Photo: Knight Fellowships.
You may remember that veteran Metro reporter Jeff Gottlieb resigned very unhappily from the Los Angeles Times last year. "This is my final email from these treacherous waters," he said in his farewell note. "I follow nearly 100 others from editorial who have left the building in less than a year and a half. Perhaps that’s a hint there’s a problem." On Tuesday, Gottlieb filed a lawsuit accusing the Times and editor-publisher Davan Maharaj of age discrimination, harassment, retaliation and creating an intolerable working environment. The Times had no comment on the suit, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Gottlieb had been a reporter on the team that won a 2011 Pulitzer Prize for investigating corruption in the city of Bell and other honors, including the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting from USC. The Ring award came with a $35,000 cash prize that Gottlieb said back in 2013 was not being handled ethically by Times editors and which is also an issue in the lawsuit. Gottlieb, 62, also alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress and labor code violations.
Gottlieb's counsel in the lawsuit, Carney Shegerian, represented former Times sports columnist T.J. Simers when he sued the paper on similar grounds and won at trial, only to have the judge void the $7.1 million damage award earlier this year. Like with Simers, Gottlieb argues that even though he resigned, he was in effect terminated because working at the Times became so unpleasant for him.
Gottlieb joined the Times as an assistant city editor in 1997. He held down several editing and reporting jobs before resigning last year. The suit lays out Gottlieb's frustration with multiple slights over the awards won by the Bell reporting and his subsequent assignment to the Orange County office against his wishes. The Times failed to account for the $35,000 from the Selden Ring Award that was supposed to go to reporters, Gottlieb's suit alleges, and after he complained he was shunned by editor Davan Maharaj and demoted to the obits desk. He also says that his treatment worsened after he went out on medical leave for prostate surgery.
The lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court accuses the Times of "a pattern and practice of discriminating against employees who were more than 40 years old." One cause of action cited in the suit is failure of the Times to supervise Maharaj and prevent him from harassing and retaliating against his employees.
This wasn't the only news out of the LA Times on Tuesday. Tribune Media, the Chicago company that holds the real estate of all the newspapers now under Tronc ownership, reported in a federal filing that it has an agreement in place to sell the Times headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and the paper's printing plant in the industrial area south of downtown. This seems to confirm a report in June that the former Times Mirror Square would likely be sold to Canadian developer Onni Group and renovated into a mixed-use complex with offices, retail and residences across the street from City Hall, the LAPD headquarters and the new federal courthouse soon to open on First and Broadway. Where the Times would move is unknown, but the current space is much bigger than the shrunken-down LA Times needs for its news operations.
On Monday, assistant managing editor Shelby Grad informed the Metro staff that a number of staffers on the third floor will need to relocate. Sounds like it mostly affects about 20 reporters and editors who work toward the southern end of the newsroom, closer to Second Street and in the section of the building originally built to house the Mirror newspaper. "This is part of a larger reconfiguration of our space in the building," Grad wrote. "In general, reporters in Cabo [as some call the area toward Second Street] will move to desks further north in the newsroom."
Also, the LAT's community engagement editor, Daniela Gerson, announced that she is leaving the Times after a year to teach journalism at Cal State Northridge with a focus on community, ethnic and participatory media. She begins later this month. Gerson is the former editor of Alhambra Source, the USC Annenberg experiment in community journalism in the San Gabriel Valley.
* Wednesday update: "The lawsuit is completely without merit," says Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning. "The Times did not and does not discriminate against employees on the basis of age or any other factor. When we have an opportunity to defend ourselves in court, we're confident this will become abundantly clear."