Former Courier-Journal executive: Life has been "hell" since fir - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Former Courier-Journal executive: Life has been "hell" since firing

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Mike Huot Mike Huot
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - A former high-ranking executive at The Courier-Journal fought back tears on the witness stand Wednesday, saying his life has been a jobless "hell" since he was fired in 2011 at age 61.

It was the first day of trial in Mike Huot's age-discrimination lawsuit against the newspaper and its parent company, Gannett Inc. Huot was making about $325,000 annually, including bonuses, when he was terminated as the newspaper’s vice president of circulation.

Huot claims he was illegally replaced by a younger executive, a 49-year-old who made $168,000. He is asking for more than $1 million in back-pay and damages.

Gannett’s attorney, Kathy Quesenberry, said the dismissal had nothing to do with Huot's age. Instead, his performance had been lagging and the paper could no longer afford such a lavishly paid executive amid serious financial problems, she said.

Huot’s attorney, Jan West, said she has emails showing Gannett executives wanted to eliminate "the old guard" and joked about Huot’s impending dismissal.

In one e-mail, after the head of Gannett's East Group, which included the Courier-Journal, said dealing with the Huot situation might kill him, human resources executive Randi Austin told him, "Just go for more Chardonnay. And make it the good stuff."

West said executives decided to terminate Huot before a reorganization in September 2011, but delayed it until then to "cover it up" and avoid a potential lawsuit.

But Arnold Garson, The Courier-Journal's publisher at the time of Huot’s firing, testified that he had "serious problems" with Huot and under him The Courier-Journal failed to meet Gannett's No. 1 goal in 2010 of increasing circulation of the Sunday paper.

Huot's attorneys pointed out that much of his performance evaluations from Garson were positive. But Garson said that while Huot did some parts of his job very well, "you have to do everything at the very top level or you are not going to survive."

Garson testified that the role of the person hired after Huot was different than Huot's and did not come with the same perks, like Huot's use of a company-paid membership to Valhalla Golf Club.

And age had nothing to do with Huot's termination. "I find that offensive," said Garson, who retired in 2012 and is living in South Dakota.

Quesenberry said Huot is only one of 1,296 people Gannett has laid off since 2011 as the company struggled for survival amid dwindling advertising revenue and readers shifting away from print.

"People don't read the paper as much anymore. This business is changing," she said. "This newspaper had to go through deep cuts to stay afloat."

Huot said he was named circulation executive of the year and won the company's highest honor, the President's Ring, multiple times during his 25 years at the paper. He said he loved his job and people called him "Mr. Circulation." Now he feels embarrassed and shunned. "I just keep asking, 'Why?" he told jurors.

Huot said has been unable to obtain comparable employment, especially without having a college degree.

"Not having a college degree in today's market is death," Huot testified.

Illustrating his claim of having suffered "emotional distress," Huot said he has awakened screaming from a nightmare in which he is trying to get into The Courier-Journal building at 6th Street and Broadway but the doors are locked.

"It’s been hell," he said.

The trial before Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Fred Cowan is expected to last about a week.Check out reporter Jason Riley's Twitter feed @jasonrileyWDRB for more coverage of Tuesday's trial.

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