Lizzy Fitzsousa Apr. 24, 2014, 7:38pm

NEW ORLEANS – Eight former Times-Picayune employees have filed suit against the newspaper for wrongful termination.

The cases were filed separately against Advance Publications, Inc., one of the largest privately held media companies in the U.S., and the Times-Picayune, L.L.C. the survivor of two mergers, in Orleans Civil District Court during the second week of December. The cases were transferred to the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana and then consolidated on Feb. 28. The cases, which are nearly identical, argue that the employees were let go due to their age.

All the plaintiff employees involved were over the age of 40 when they were terminated, the suits say.

The plaintiffs claim they were notified they would be let go prior to their Sept. 30, 2012 termination. They all claim they saw advertisements for positions similar to theirs and inquired about applying for these jobs. Patricia Gonzalez, one of the plaintiffs, had worked for the newspaper for nearly forty years. She applied for a position comparable to her own and offered to work for lower wages and fewer benefits, but her application was rejected. The employees all filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints for termination due to age and received right to sue letters.

The employees are also arguing breach of contract, claiming that the Times-Picayune job security pledge gave them protection from losing their jobs due to economic or technological changes. Despite this alleged guarantee of job security, they claim their supervisors argued that their terminations were due to changing economic times and the technological changes in the industry. The lawsuit argues that all of these employees might have considered jobs with different employers during their careers, but were encouraged to stay at the Times-Picayune due to the stability in employment it promised.

Finally, the suit alleges that several of these employees were forced to train their less qualified and younger replacements. Keith Catalanotto claims he was pressured to train new employees in the packaging center where he had worked since 1990. He alleges that he was threatened with earlier termination and penalties to his severance package if he declined to train the new warehouse employees. All of the plaintiffs in the suit assert that they were pressured into signing severance papers quickly without adequate time to read them over. Ulpiano Lugo, a systems analyst who started his employment with the Picayune in 1994, claims he was told to sign his severance package before seeking outside counsel or it would be negatively impacted.

The plaintiffs are represented by Edmund W. Golden and Kenneth C. Fonte of Golden & Fonte. Despite messages left at their office, Golden and Fonte could not be reached for comment.

The defendants are represented by Loretta G. Mince of Fishman, Haygood, Phelps, Walmsley, Willis & Swanson LLP.

Mince responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit saying that the defendants disagree with the claims of the plaintiffs and that they were validly released with a severance package.

Case no. 2-14-cv-00068.

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