Fired Dallas Voice editor John Wright's feud with his former employer didn't end with the parting shots he delivered here and elsewhere, nor with the launch of Lone Star Q, Wright's new online news venture.
It's simmered on, first in hearings last fall before the Texas Workforce Commission, where Wright was trying to collect unemployment benefits, and now with a lawsuit. Wright filed suit on Wednesday against Voice Publishing, Inc., former owner Robert Moore, and current co-owners Leo Cusimano and Terry Thompson.
The petition itself is 33 pages, an epic as far as wrongful termination lawsuits go. It would probably be easier to list the legal claims Wright doesn't make against the Voice, but we'll enumerate his grievances anyway. In addition to the wrongful termination claim, Wright alleges:
- unpaid overtime (he worked an average of 50 hours per week but was only paid for 40);
- sexual harassment (Moore allegedly sent him iChat messages of nude photos of Asian boys; Cusimano would allegedly call Wright into his office to show him nude pictures);
- "breach of quasi-contract" (Wright bought a house with Cusimano's encouragement, only to be fired two months later);
- defamation (Cusimano, Moore and Thompson allegedly told Voice employees and the TWC that Wright was guilty of "insubordination");
- violation of the constitutional right to equal protection and due process (they included false charges in his employment file, torpedoing his chances of securing a comparable job);
- violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Wright claims to have a "condition recognized under the [ADA]" for which the Voice did not provide reasonable accommodation);
- racial discrimination
The latter point might seem puzzling, given that Wright is a white guy. But according to the lawsuit, the Voice's lone black employee worked in the art department and wasn't a very diligent worker. One Thursday last May -- a production day, when the paper is laid out -- the employee left without finishing his assignments. Rather than discipline the employee, they let him stay home on a subsequent Thursday evening while Wright and other staffers finished the paper. Wright chalks up the decision to a reluctance to discipline the employee because he was black, aka "reverse discrimination."
Specific legal claims aside, the lawsuit does shed some light on the circumstances that led to Wright's termination, which Voice management declined to discuss at the time and which Wright painted as retaliation over his reporting on Dallas Pride's public-erection ban.
According to Wright's suit, the "insubordination" claim stemmed from a comment he posted on his Facebook page on September 14, 2013, criticizing how "another publication had covered an issue that emerged during Pride" -- an apparent reference to this Dallas Morning News article.
Specifically, he took issue with the paper quoting Cooper Smith Koch, a Dallas PR exec probably better known as one of JC Penneys' two gay dads, as a representative of the local LGBT community.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Support Our Journalism
That weekend, as Wright and Koch sniped at each other on Facebook, Koch complained to Moore and Thompson about Wright's posts. Wright talked with Moore, then Thompson, who encouraged him to stop battling with Koch, according to the suit. It wasn't worth Wright's time.
Wright sent Koch an email anyways, which he defends, saying it was within the purview of his job as editor. That Monday, Wright was fired.
Cusimano has not responded to a request for comment. In a previous interview, he declined to go into detail but defended Wright's termination as justified.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.