A veteran consumer columnist, whose departure from the Hartford Courant made national news, filed a First Amendment lawsuit against his former employer Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court.
George Gombossy, a Hartford Courant employee for 40 years, alleges in the lawsuit that he was fired Aug. 14 because he refused to go easy on the newspaper’s “major” advertisers.
“This lawsuit is not only important to my client, it is vital to the people of Connecticut,” Joseph Garrison, Gombossy’s attorney, said in a prepared statement.
The lawsuit is being brought under the state’s Free Speech statute, which protects workers from being fired or punished for exercising their First Amendment rights in the workplace, Garrison said.
While the statute has been used by other workers who were punished for speaking out in the workplace, this is the first time a journalist has used it in Connecticut to contest his firing for acting on behalf of the public to protect the consumer, he said.
“Our suit, if successful, should result in less pressure on journalists to commit unethical acts on behalf of advertisers as media publishers will know that it will be at their peril,” Gombossy said in a brief statement.
In the lawsuit it says shortly after Jeff Levine was appointed the Courant’s senior vice president and director of content, he called Gombossy into his office to discuss his columns about Aeillo Plumbing. The lawsuit says Aeillo was complaining about the columns and Levine asked Gombossy to pay them a visit and “be nice” to them.
Gombossy refused and told Levine they would have to fire him before he did that.
“Until late July, Gombossy published his blog without specific rules from higher management,” the lawsuit states. In late July Gombossy was given a list of major advertisers and was required to alert Levine if he was going to publish articles about any of them.
On Aug. 2 Gombossy submitted the infamous Sleepy’s article to his editors. The lawsuit says it was held without explanation. Then on Aug. 3 Gombossy was called into his supervisor’s office and was told his position was being eliminated. Another similar position was created, but at half his current pay.
Gombossy alleges he was never asked to apply for the new position and was given two weeks before he was asked to leave the newspaper. His last day was Aug. 14.
“George Gombossy has consistently mischaracterized the circumstances surrounding his departure from The Hartford Courant for his own personal gain,” Courant said in a prepared statement. “Mr. Gombossy was not under any contract requiring his continued employment as our consumer reporter and a business decision was made to move in another direction that did not require his particular talents,” the company’s statement goes onto say.
“It was the Courant’s right to make that decision. We stand by it and we will defend it.”
Gombossy has since launched his own national consumer web site: CTWatchdog.com