Sports columnist T.J. Simers sued former employer the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday for wrongful termination and age discrimination, also naming former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, whom he accused of interfering with his job status.
Simers, who now works at the O.C. Register, disappeared from LAT’s pages over the summer. In his first column for the Register, Simers accused LAT’s publisher of ordering employees to refrain from criticizing his friends — namely, McCourt.
Now, Simers’ allegations are far more serious.
Simers, 63, worked for LAT for 23 years. In March, Simers claimed, he was diagnosed with “complex migraine syndrome.” Two months later, he was chastised for a “public behavior problem,” his columns were reduced and LAT’s managing editor, Marc Duvoisin, told him to take a medical leave.
His last column was published on June 3. By August, Simers was given a “final warning” for various ethical violations, despite having no prior knowledge that any of his actions were against LAT’s ethics policy and the fact that, Simers said, “at all times, plaintiff performed his job duties in an exemplary manner and earned awards and accolades for his work as a columnist.”
When Simers inquired about the status of his employment, he said, he was offered a one-year contract that could be terminated at any time for any reason. Simers instead went to the Register. His rocky relationship with LAT at the end of his tenure, he said, was because of discrimination by the paper against his health problems and age.
McCourt, Simers says, “intiated orders to stop negative press to be written about him through his relationship with Times publisher, Eddie Hartenstein.”
In 2011, for instance, Simers said he was told not to write about the Mattel Children’s Charity because Dodgers players were donating to it instead of McCourt’s charity, “Think Cure.”
In addition, the suit said, “plaintiff and three of his colleagues were told to not to write anything negative about defendant Frank McCourt. Defendants implied that employees’ jobs would be in jeopardy if they wrote any negative information concerning defendant McCourt. Plaintiff was told to ‘go easy’ and ‘don’t be tough’ when writing about defendant McCourt in plaintiff’s columns.”
McCourt wasn’t the only person who had influence over LAT’s articles, Simers said. In May, “defendant Duvoisin expressed serious concerns and criticism to Simers about plaintiff’s column written about the owner of the Anaheim Angels’ owner, [Arte] Moreno, two weeks earlier. The Anaheim Angels advertises on the Times’s website.”
The suit added: “Plaintiff believes that his employment was heavily influenced and impacted by outside parties within the Anaheim Angels organization.”
The Times declined to comment to TheWrap, but in a story about the suit published by the Times, spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said: “We wished T.J. Simers well when he left the L.A. Times to write for the O.C. Register and continue to do so. But, the claims in his lawsuit are without merit. As this is now an ongoing litigation, we will defer further comment.”
Simers is asking for unspecified damages of at least $25,000.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.