Former Messenger Execs Sue Startup for Going Back on Promised $150K Severance Packages

A trio of sales employees seek 6 months of their base salary, as laid out in their contracts

Jimmy Finklestein attends the Hollywood Reporter's 2016 35 Most Powerful People in Media in New York City
Jimmy Finkelstein attends the Hollywood Reporter's 2016 35 Most Powerful People in Media in New York City (Credit: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

Following The Messenger’s shutdown, three former business-side sales executives are suing the media outlet for reneging on soaring severance package sums promised to them.

The complaint, filed in New York State Supreme Court in New York County on Wednesday, states that their contracts with Finkelstein promised at least six months of their base salary if their jobs were terminated without cause. That would have amounted to $150,000. The suit comes less than a month after the collapse of the startup media outlet, which left hundreds jobless with its shuttering.

Each of the plaintiffs — Danielle Varvaro, Christopher Parks and Brad Bosserman — seek the aforementioned sum, as well as interest and attorney’s fees from the media news site. The suit details Varvaro and Parks’ hiring by Finkelstein a couple months before the official launch of The Messenger in May 2023. Bosserman was hired a bit later, a month before launch, to spearhead partnerships in the company’s Washington D.C. office. 

According to the lawsuit, Varvaro and Parks’ contracts read, “Should the Company terminate your employment without ‘Cause’ then, the Company shall pay you your base salary for a period of three (3) months if you are terminated during the first twelve (12) months of your employment and six (6) months if you are terminated thereafter, less applicable taxes and withholdings (‘Severance’).”

These sales execs are among the 270 staffers left unemployed by the site’s collapse, including producers, editors and writers. The news outlet — which covered politics, culture, business, sports, breaking news and tech — burned through $50 million in eight months. The newsroom made up the bulk of the 300 employees at the startup, founded by CEO Jimmy Finkelstein, former owner of The Hill. 

Former staffers filed a class-action lawsuit against the company a day after the outlet shuttered. They argue that they were not given proper notice of their employment termination, which violates the New York Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, so senior producer Pilar Belendez-Desha and the staffers she represents as plaintiffs sought to recover up to 60 days wages and benefits.

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