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The Messenger Sued for Breach of Contract, Other Violations


Those who work in the journalism and publishing industries are no strangers to layoffs. The ways that consumers view news is always changing and it’s hard to make a profit in journalism. Employee costs are a major expense, forcing many companies to lay off workers.

Sometimes maybe a dozen workers are laid off. In some cases, though, it may be the entire staff. This is what recently happened at a digital news site called The Messenger. Despite being a news site, employees were not given the news about their impending layoffs in a timely manner. Hundreds of workers were laid off without severance pay and they are now suing.

On January 31, more than 300 employees were told they were laid off. Many found out not from their employer but from The New York Times. Mere hours later, the site’s fate was sealed. The website returned a white screen with “The Messenger” and an email address. No content could be found on the site.

Employees found out they would not be receiving severance pay and lawsuits were filed by the next day. The employees alleged breaches of their employment contracts and violations of labor law because The Messenger refused to issue severance payments.

The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in New York federal court. It alleges that the news outlet, owned by Jimmy Finkelstein, failed to give more than 300 employees proper notice of their terminations. This is allegedly in violation of the state’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires at least 90 days notice of a mass layoff.

The WARN Act applies to private businesses with 50 or more full-time employees. The law covers mass layoffs involving 25 or more workers. Businesses that do not provide notice are in violation of the law. They must pay back wages and benefits and there may also be civil penalties involved.

However, the federal version of the law has an exception for faltering companies actively seeking capital to stay in business as well as a carveout for unforeseeable business circumstances. Finkelstein believes these exceptions apply to him and therefore he will not be penalized. He told employees in a staff note that he “exhausted every option available to raise sufficient capital to reach profitability.”

The Messenger sent staff a WARN notice the same day of the layoffs, notifying employees that the publication will be immediately shutting down. Finkelstein claims he was permitted to give less than 90 days notice because the company could not raise the capital necessary to continue operations.

The lawsuit seeks to represent all former workers impacted by the terminations, with the hopes of recovering up to 60 days in unpaid wages and benefits. While severance payments were promised to many workers, nobody has received any.

Seek Legal Help

While every state (except Montana) are at-will states and companies have the power to end a person’s employment at any time, there are exceptions and there are wrong ways to go about it.

Were you wrongfully terminated? Proving so can be tricky. Get the legal help you need from Fort Lauderdale business litigation lawyer Edward J. Jennings, P.A. We can fight breach of contracts as well as many other business cases. We’ll make sure your rights are protected. Fill out the online form or call 954-764-4330 to schedule a consultation.



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