Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, baby!
The other day, I tweeted about an age and disability discrimination trial going on in Los Angeles (thanks to Law360, whose coverage made me aware of the case).
T.J. Simers, a
notorious well-known former sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, has sued the owners of the Times, contending that he was let go in 2013 because of his age (then in his early 60s, now 65) and because of his complex migraine syndrome, which caused him to suffer a transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) in March 2013.
The trial began last week, and is expected to last about six weeks. I plan to provide updates as the trial goes along because it should be more interesting than a barrel of Marchuk v. Faruqi & Faruqi.
(Although, no sex in this one. At least I don’t think so.)
Tommy Lasorda, retired manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, testified on Mr. Simers’ behalf Wednesday, and a number of other notable figures from the Wide, Wide World of Sports are expected to be witnesses for Mr. Simers, including former boxer Oscar De La Hoya, former LA Laker Dwight Howard, former LA Dodger Matt Kemp, UCLA head football coach Jim Mora, LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul*, and former Dodgers manager Joe Torre. (Courthouse News has a link to the complete witness list here.)
Here’s the story, in as much of a nutshell as I’m able to squeeze it into:
Mr. Simers was with the Times for more than 20 years, and the people in Los Angeles seemed to either love him or think he was a the biggest SOB to cast a shadow upon the face of the earth. This video clip where he is grilling UCLA Coach Mora will give you an idea as to why Mr. Simers is hated by many (Mr. Simers is off-camera):
Click here to watch video
Awful, right? Rude, obnoxious . . . a total jerk. But note that Coach Mora is one of the people on Mr. Simers’ witness list. (Maybe an adverse witness, but maybe not . . .)
Anyway, as you can imagine, a guy like Mr. Simers ticked off a lot of powerful people during his career, including former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who was supposedly tight with the Timespublisher and CEO at the time, Eddy Hartenstein. After Mr. Simers returned to work from his mini-stroke, he wrote a column critical of Anaheim (now LA) Angels owner Arte Moreno, and his three-times-a-week column was cut back to twice a week.
The final blow-up came in early June 2013, when Mr. Simers did a cute video with Dwight Howard, who was with the Lakers at the time, having a free-throw contest with Mr. Simers’ daughter, Kelly. (Kelly won, but Dwight was shooting left-handed.) Here it is:
Click here to watch video
The video was shot by Mandalay Sports Entertainment, and Mr. Simers was reportedly in negotiations with Mandalay to produce a TV sitcom starring Mr. Simers and his daughter. The newspaper apparently considered this a “conflict of interest” and, according to the lawsuit, demoted Mr. Simers to the general assignment desk and offered him a one-year, at-will employment contract. Mr. Simers quit instead and took a job at the Orange County Register, where he lasted about a year before taking a voluntary separation package in 2014. He is now retired.
Several LA-area columnists have noted that everyone in LA is in negotiations all the time (I live in North Carolina, so what do I know?, but I can believe it). The LA folks seem to think that the paper’s “conflict of interest” explanation sounds fishy. In addition, Mr. Simers says he told his editor about the video shooting in advance.
Even if the “conflict” rationale is bogus, it sounds as if Mr. Simers may have given the paper plenty of legal reasons (though perhaps not necessarily fair ones) to want to shove him out the door.
Now that you have the scorecard, you can play ball!