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Former City Paper art director MacLeod sues former CP owner Times-Shamrock Communications

June 9, 2014
By

Joe MacLeod in 2008 (Photo by Jim Burger)

Joe MacLeod in 2008 (Photo by Jim Burger)

When City Paper was sold in March to the Baltimore Sun Media Group (BSMG) by Time-Shamrock Communications (TS) subsidiary CEGW, Inc., CP art director Joe MacLeod, a 25-year employee, was laid off by TS and not hired by BSMG, a circumstance that for all other similarly situated CP staffers meant receiving a severance package from TS. MacLeod, though, was denied severance—and now he’s suing TS and CEGW, saying the denial amounts to a breach of contract and a violation of the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (MWPCL), according to the complaint, filed June 6 in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

MacLeod, who still writes City Paper‘s Mr. Wrong column, claims to have “carried out his duties as Art Director satisfactorily and as ordinary to March 5, 2014,” the day the sale when through, according to the lawsuit drawn up by his attorney, David G. Wright of the Baltimore firm Kahn, Smith & Collins. To make him whole again, MacLeod is asking for “damages of not less than $35,086.44,” the complaint states—three times the amount he would have been paid under a “matrix for wages to be paid based on years of service” under the severance package, a multiplier prescribed by the MWPCL. He’s also asking for “economic damages to be determined at trial, to include damages for Defendants’ breach of contract,” the complaint continues and “reasonable attorney’s fees, litigation expenses, and the costs of this action,  in an amount to be determined at trial.”

When initially told he was being denied severance, MacLeod received no explanation. After asking for one, though, TS CEO Scott Lynett wrote in a letter to MacLeod that the package was “conditioned, in part, upon satisfactory performance of your job duties through the closing date of the sale,” and MacLeod’s “actions … cannot be considered satisfactory performance.” To back up the decision, Lynett cited unpublished copy that MacLeod prepared for his final Mr. Wrong column under TS ownership, which consisted entirely of “the F word” repeated over and over again, Lynett wrote, with the exception of “The Sun” in “the 17th paragraph,” and asserted that MacLeod behaved in ways that were “an embarrassment” during a presentation to CP staff announcing the impending sale.  

“Defendants promised MacLeod remuneration for his continued work to get the City Paper out on time and in the ordinary course,” the complaint states, and “MacLeod performed that work,” yet TS and CEGW “failed and refused to pay those wages.” Their “failure and/or refusal” to do so “was willful and not the result of a bona fide dispute,” the lawsuit claims.

After MacLeod was left unemployed when CP changed hands, members of Baltimore’s arts community rallied to his support by holding two events and an online art auction for his benefit, collectively called “Wrongfest,” in honor of his column.

According to case documents, MacLeod’s claims may be “appropriate” for “alternative dispute resolution,” such as “mediation” or a “settlement conference,”  and if the case ends up going before a jury, the trial is estimated to take one day.

Update: A disclosure is in order here, since the writer and much of the staff of City Paper are long-time friends and colleagues of MacLeod’s.

  • Vic Vinegar

    Go Joe! FUCK CORPORATE CITY PAPER!

  • Sean Tully

    I understand Joe’s sentiment but frankly I think he will lose this case if indeed his last copy is as TS states. That’s what they call cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face or he won the battle but lost the war. These are all basic life lessons. Sometimes one must take hard knocks to learn them.

  • Via

    Actually, pre- and post-sale City Paper were/are both corporate, but Joe’s lawsuit is aimed at Times-Shamrock, the previous owners, who are probably less corporate – or at least smaller – than current owners, the Sun.

  • http://joshsisk.com/ Josh Sisk

    I’m no lawyer but this it would seem that his column – which is a freelance gig paid for out of the freelance budget and not part of his normal job duties – has little to do with fulfilling the job description of art director. He submitted a column, it was rejected. I doubt he got his freelancer fee that week for it. However, the paper still got art directed and designed that week, and was published successfully. If Times-Shamrock can pull up a job description sheet that says “Art direct the paper AND provide a weekly column”, then I agree with you, but I doubt such a thing exists.

  • Farts

    It was a courageous and creative column. I really enjoyed reading it and it was a reference to a previous column that if you had any connection to this city, you’d get it. That’s the point.

  • pix pole

    It’s merely a re-write of a column of his that was published years ago. I found MacLeod’s writing unfunny and childish, yet it sounds like he fulfilled his duties of preparing the paper to be published. He’ll likely win his suit, as the claim of non-fulfillment of duty appears to be false.

  • Flying Dingo

    They sure do love your point of view and, for many years may have shook their heads at your peculiar ways but let it pass, until you pull the big dog’s tail and everything goes apeshit. Good for you Joe. Wow, all the years you held in there and made a huge impact forgotten so quickly.

  • Chuck Cramer

    saddest thing in the world… a shitty daily owning City Paper – a place I hold in my heart dearly…

  • William Bond

    Mr. Tully, notwithstanding your opinion of Mr. MacLeod’s last unpublished column, which was part of a series, his main job was as art director of the paper, which they kept him at until the bitter end. Had they summarily fired him at the column juncture, maybe, but then City Paper couldn’t have gotten their issues to the printers and out for delivery on time, as, at that time, city aper could not be put out w/o Joe MacCleod. So, no, you have no idea about what you are talking about legally.

  • Sean Tully

    We’ll see. I doubt TS would waste money on a lawyer to defend their actions if they didn’t think they would win or at least come to some settlement lower than what MacLeod believes he deserves.

  • William Bond

    Still champing at the bit, huh fella… Ok, here’s some lawsuit 101 for you… If you sue a corporation, they hire a lawyer, regardless — they never self-represent unless they have in-house counsel. Now, adding the second related argument which happens in all lawsuits — negotiation — does not make your first premise have any merit.

  • Sean Tully

    Mr. Bond, I have reviewed my statements and I only see opinions. I am not sure why you are getting so heated about it. But, here are a few things that are not my opinion, and, if the story is accurate, we may take as fact:

    1. TS gave severance pay to all other “similarly situated CP staffers” as MacLeod, but not to MacLeod.

    2. MacLeod claims TS not giving him severance was “a breach of contract” and against Maryland law.

    3. MacLeod is seeking “damages of not less than $35,086.44”.

    (Back to opinion) – From this, I think we can assume:

    1. and 2. TS had signed contracts with CP employees in a similar situation as MacLeod. TS reviewed the contracts the employees agreed to and did not withhold MacLeod’s severance willy-nilly. It was thought out and I am almost certain they reviewed their options with lawyers before they acted.

    3. MacLeod is asking for not less than a certain dollar figure. I would argue that if he receives anything less then that dollar figure, he did not win the case. Now you could reasonably argue that if he receives some kind of settlement figure that he did not lose the case and I would agree with you, but, that would also bring me back to my original opinion that he cut off his nose to spit his face, unless his goal was to make some kind of statement at a personal (financial) cost to himself.

  • William Bond

    Mr. Tully,

    You have the right to your ‘opinions,’ but you don’t have the right to project your emotions onto me, then make an analytical statement ascribing same.
    What I have been saying to you is that you don’t know shit about the law or how it works in the real world. You have then continued to proceed to clarify that fact.

    – Bill

  • Sean Tully

    “[Mr. Tully] …you don’t know shit…”
    Ah, Gad! Mr. Bond, I was wondering how long it was going take you to show your true self. You took longer than I thought but, atlas, you crossed the line into personal attack. Well, sorry, Mr. Bond, I don’t argue with idiots for that would make me a fool. Over and out.

  • William Bond

    The only ‘true self’ showing is that you believe your proven thought pattern of a 2nd grader is logic, that you believe you have any ability to analyze ‘facts,’ and that you accuse others of doing what, you, in fact, do. Pedantically immature and annoying, I say.

    Clearly, as well, you are the dreaded ‘last word’ kinda’ asshole from whom I would guess most of the folks who know you — flee…

  • Sean Tully

    Wow. You need help my man.

  • William Bond

    The only ‘wow’ is the inflated self-image of an unemployed journo/ blogger who believes in gibberish, such as that a newspaper would go pro se on a lawsuit against them, ever.

    And by the way, look in the mirror. Get to a dentist before slathering offers of help to others… Ugly and dumb is a bad combo, bro’…

  • Sean Tully

    LOL! Now you are attacking my teeth? Far out. That’s pretty sad, “bro”. That’s pretty sad.

  • William Bond

    The only thing sad is your obvious stupidity and arrogance which you believe you have valid opinions to offer about subjects you know nothing about.
    How long you gonna’ keep up your girly last word bs..?

  • Sean Tully

    This would be so funny if it weren’t scary. You don’t have guns in your house do you?

  • William Bond

    There’s nothing funny about your stupidity… Especially when it is coupled with your obvious victimization fantasies. Sadly, it won’t be me who shuts your trap, but I am sure most that who know you dream of it nightly.
    Now, to be perfectly clear — Fuck off.

  • Anon
  • Sean Tully

    Wow…just wow. We are discussing a news story, right?

  • Sean Tully

    If that article is about my man then all I can say is wow, I was more right than I knew.

  • William Bond

    You and I were discussing zero…

  • William Bond

    I ain’t your man, pussy boy.
    The idea that you can read a news article wherein the reporter and newspaper were both sued and settled the case and believe it as fact is exactly what I identify as your disability.

    This is this paper’s news story about me which is accurate.

    http://citypaper.com/news/tilting-at-titans-1.1061490

    And, btw, the state of Maryland gave me a ‘carry permit’ numerous times…

  • William Bond

    Typical lib ad hominem group think… And your link has exactly what to do with the fact Tully believes that Times Shamrock would not hire a lawyer to defend MacLeod’s lawsuit?

  • Sean Tully

    You’re wild, Bond, you are wild.

  • Sean Tully

    Oh, so we are back on topic here. Well, first off, I didn’t say TS would not hire a lawyer to defend the MacLeod lawsuit. I said that I doubt they didn’t consult a lawyer before not giving MacLeod his severance pay, which, per the article, was in his contract.

  • Sean Tully

    Actually, Bond, here is the story that appears to be accurate:

    “Allegations that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) committed civil-rights violations and The Washington Post engaged in fraud, defamation, and breach-of-contract, spelled out in a 2010 lawsuit filed by William C. Bond of Baltimore, were dismissed in early December by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth of Washington, D.C.”

    http://citypaper.com/news/justice-department-and-em-washington-post-em-prevail-in-baltimore-man-8217-s-lawsuit-1.1252574

  • William Bond

    Accurate of what, exactly?

    Judge Lamberth is a district judge. Did it ever occur to you that there is a body called a court of appeals? Did it ever occur to you that CP did not continue to keep updating the story as there was nothing in the public record to update?

    No wonder the Examiner went out of biz…

  • Sean Tully

    Okay, that seems like a reasonable place to end this. Nothing too laughable. Note: I didn’t actually write for the Baltimore Examiner (the printed newspaper). I started writing for the shitty online edition after they closed the printed edition down. So you can’t blame that on me. I’ve since stopped writing for the online edition because it blew so bad.
    Anyway, I’ll meet you back here when they come out with the results of MacLeod’s court case.