Former Courier-Journal exec acknowledges job opportunity on seco - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Former Courier-Journal exec acknowledges job opportunity on second day of civil trial

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A former high-ranking executive at The Courier-Journal who has said he has been unable to get a job since being illegally fired in 2011 acknowledged in court Thursday that he had a potential job opportunity in Florida that would pay $110,000.

But Mike Huott said the job as circulation director at the Sarasota newspaper would have paid him far less than the $325,000 he had been making at the Courier and would be an hour-and-a-half-long drive from a home he has in Florida.

"It didn't make sense from an economic standpoint," Huot testified, adding that while $110,000 sounds like a lot of money, it's not when you consider uprooting his family from Louisville. He testified that at the time, in 2012, he also believed he could get a better job.

Since then, at least in part because he does not have a college degree, Huot has been unable to find employment.

This was the second day of trial in Huot's age-discrimination lawsuit against the newspaper and its parent company, Gannett Inc. Huot, who was terminated as the newspaper's vice president of circulation, 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 attorneys have 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, said attorney Kathryn Quesenberry. And they have argued that Ganett had fired more than 1,200 other employees, both young and older.

Quesenberry also noted on Thursday that employees older than Huot remained with the company after he was let go. And she said that Huot himself had fired people around his same age.

In addition, a former human resources director for the Courier-Journal testified that the company was very careful during layoffs to make sure age was not a factor in letting someone go, because of the potential for lawsuits.

Huot's attorney, Jan West, tried to show a list of several hundred Courier-Journal employees that have been laid off since 2008, pointing out that the vast majority were over the age of 40. Attorneys for Gannett and the Courier objected and Judge Fred Cowan will make a ruling on Friday.

West has also 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 Sept. 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 Wednesday 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.

A former employee who worked under Huot testified Thursday that he was shocked when Huot was fired, saying he was "highly thought of" by staff and company officials.

"We thought Mike was one of the better Vice Presidents," said Ronnie Hayes, who worked at the CJ for decades. "We were shocked when he was let go." 

The trial before Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Fred Cowan is expected to last about a week.

Check out WDRB.com reporter Jason Riley's Twitter feed @jasonrileyWDRB for more coverage of the trial.

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