A group of eight former employees from The Cincinnati Enquirer filed an amended lawsuit Oct. 19 accusing the Gannett-owned newspaper of age discrimination. The lawsuit, which was originally filed by Joseph Fenton and Catherine Reutter in 2011, was amended on Oct. 19 to include six more plaintiffs.
The origins of the complaint, which also alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, began when Fenton was allegedly told he was performing poorly at The Enquirer. On November 2010, Fenton was “suddenly informed” by his supervisor, Julie Engebrecht, that his performance was unsatisfactory. This was despite Engebrecht allegedly acknowledging that Fenton was a “great editor” in the same conversation.
From that point, Fenton allegedly tried to smooth problems over. Working through human resources, Fenton arranged weekly meetings with Engebrecht to gather feedback and improve his work, according to the lawsuit. At the end of every meeting, Fenton and Engebrecht allegedly worked out goals and Fenton would finish the meetings by asking, “Are we good?” Allegedly, Engebrecht replied by assuring Fenton “things were in fact good.”
Despite the meetings, Fenton was fired on Feb. 18, 2011. He was 57, and he had worked for Gannett (Correction: Previously said The Enquirer) for 14 years, according to the lawsuit. The complaint also says Fenton had no previous record of discipline, but Engebrecht had allegedly referred to Fenton as a “dinosaur” and “curmudgeon.”
When he was terminated, at least seven other individuals — all “near or over the age of 50” — at The Enquirer were laid off as well, according to the lawsuit. Reutter, a co-filer of the lawsuit, was among those terminated. Three of the employees terminated worked for the online department, and they were allegedly replaced by “an employee in his 20s who was hired in January 2011.”
This is all despite Fenton having a history of “high-quality work” at The Enquirer, according to the complaint: “Two (of his) projects were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Upon information and belief, these (two) projects were the only (two) nominated for the Pulitzer Prize from The Cincinnati Enquirer during Fenton’s tenure there.” Fenton also directed projects that won Best of Gannett awards in 2006 and 2008 in a competition with the company’s 83 other U.S. newspapers, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to make similar claims for the other former employees involved in the lawsuit. They were all 45 years old or older when terminated, and most claim younger, less qualified employees replaced them.
However, in the factual allegations for Reutter, it’s explained a 49-year-old replaced some of the employees. The lawsuit notes the employee is younger than Reutter, but that employee is actually four years older than the youngest plaintiff was when terminated.
The complaint claims Reutter was told in her exit interview “seniority was a factor in the choice of who was terminated.”