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 To back up the decision, Lynett cited unpublished copy that MacLeod prepared for his final Mr.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.