Dec. 17, 2013 05:04
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Eight former employees of The Times-Picayune have sued the newspaper and parent Advance Publications Inc., alleging their layoffs violated a longstanding "job security pledge" and age discrimination laws.

 

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Eight former employees of The Times-Picayune have sued the newspaper and parent Advance Publications Inc., alleging their layoffs violated a longstanding "job security pledge" and age discrimination laws.

The plaintiffs were 46 to 59 years old when they lost jobs ranging from warehouse worker to reporter in June and September 2012. They either were not allowed to apply or applied unsuccessfully for lower-paid replacement jobs, according to lawsuits filed Wednesday and Friday in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

Times-Picayune publisher Ricky Mathews did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Keith Catalanotto, 53, who had been a warehouse worker for 22 years, said he was told "the new 'team members' would be younger and willing to work for less salary and little or no benefits." His lawsuit also claims he was "coerced" to train replacements "who were obviously not as well qualified or experienced as him."

The other plaintiffs are Patricia Gonzalez, 59, a graphic artist for more than 38 years; Aileen Kelly, 50, with the company for 29 years in roles including customer service clerk and graphic designer; Vivian Hernandez, 50, a reporter or contributing writer for 26 years in community news, automotive and special sections; Jeanne Woods, 60, a graphic designer for 20 years; Ulpiano Lugo, 50, a systems analyst for 18 years; Stephanie Stroud Naylor, 47, a news copy editor for nearly 15 years; and Patricia Pitt, 49, who worked in advertising for 15 years.

All the plaintiffs said they relied on a longstanding company pledge not to fire non-union workers because of economic or technological changes.

"Talented employees ... could have found employment elsewhere but stayed with the Newhouse newspapers for this sole reason, i.e., job security even in tough economic times and in times of changing technology," said the suit for Pitt.

Publishers in the chain told employees in 2009 that the pledge would be eliminated in early 2010, according to The Mobile Press-Register, an Advance publication.

Although the lawsuits said the pledge was posted throughout the newspaper building and employees considered it part of their employment agreements, it could be difficult to convince a court that it holds legal standing, said labor attorney Winston Gerard DeCuir Jr. of Baton Rouge.

"Generally, a unilateral statement by an employer which does not have the formality of a contract is not going to be considered a contract such that it would alter the regular at-will employment rules in Louisiana," he said.

The Times-Picayune announced staff cuts in 2012 along with a plan to boost news coverage at its companion website, nola.com. Other Advance-owned publications announced similar plans. The company is owned by members of the Newhouse family.

An original plan to reduce publication of The Times-Picayune to three days a week later was changed to include a tabloid publication, Times-Picayune Street, designed initially for street sales several days a week.

After The Times-Picayune's operational changes were announced, the Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate increased its presence in the New Orleans market and established a competing publication, The New Orleans Advocate.

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