December 22, 2009

Stephen A. Smith Quite Frankly Wants His Money and His Column Back

Newspaper union wants The Philadelphia Inquirer to pay $100,000 and to restore him as a columnist at the paper, meanwhile The Inquirer continues to ignore the arbitators ruling.

Richard Prince's Journalism

The dispute between sports commentator Stephen A. Smith and the Philadelphia Inquirer escalated when the Newspaper Guild of Philadelphia took the dispute to federal court, seeking an order that the Inquirer "publish and promote Stephen A. Smith’s columns" and pay him $100,000 in back pay.

The Inquirer fired Smith in 2007 and now refuses to publish his work even though an arbitrator ordered the Inquirer to reinstate him with back pay. Meanwhile, Smith has been visible as a commentator on cable television, has signed a contract with Fox Sports Radio to host a morning drive-time radio show and broke stories that the Inquirer refused to publish.

"The employer complied with the award to reinstate Smith, but on his first day back, was told in order to publish his columns, Smith would have to pledge to agree to an Inquirer code of ethics, and wanted to prohibit Smith's outside work," Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers Association of America Local 38010, told Journal-isms last month. The Guild filed a grievance.

Ross said Friday via e-mail, "In 22 years of representing employees, I have never seen an employer defy an Arbitrators award, so willfully, and arrogantly, that the union is forced to file in Federal Court to have it enforced. Brian Tierney should be embarrassed as the Publisher of the Inquirer. I'm pretty confident, once Stephen's personal lawyers get done with him, he will be." Smith retained trial lawyer Willie R. Gary as one of his attorneys.

Inquirer Editor William R. Marimow has consistently refused to comment on Smith's situation, saying he cannot discuss personnel matters.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, recounts the history of the dispute, including an Oct. 27 award by arbitrator Richard R. Kasher that directed the Inquirer to reinstate Smith within 15 days "as a General Sports Columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Philadelphia Daily News, and Mr. Smith shall have the option to declare his preference. Mr. Smith will occupy a 'protected beat.' "

He also directed the newspaper to continue Smith’s salary at $225,000 and to "continue to promote Mr. Smith’s columns to the best advantage of both parties,” as well as to continue Smith's health and dental benefits as a full-time Guild member. The lawsuit says the Inquirer has not reimbursed Smith for the cost of his medical and dental insurance.

It was Smith's salary that prompted Marimow to attempt to get rid of Smith, according to a Sept. 3 report in the Guild Reporter, a national Guild publication.

"Smith, a columnist with an unblemished disciplinary record for 13 years, was regarded so highly by the Inquirer that he became its best-paid staffer and was featured in its advertising campaigns," Andy Zipser wrote.

"Eventually he became a sought-after radio and television commentator, and when ESPN offered him a daily show in 2005, he approached management to negotiate an arrangement allowing him to continue his column on a more limited basis. >>
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Smith will host a national weekday program beginning Jan. 4 on Fox Sports Radio.

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