Judge tosses ex-reporter's lawsuit against L.A. Times

A Superior Court judge has ruled against a former Los Angeles Times reporter who alleged that he was forced to quit his job because of oppressive treatment after helping the paper win a Pulitzer Prize.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rita Miller granted summary judgment to The Times on Monday in the suit filed by Jeff Gottlieb, one of the two primary reporters on the paper’s investigation of corruption in the city of Bell, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Miller found that Gottlieb had failed to meet the high standard for proving that he was “constructively terminated” — that is, subjected to working conditions “so intolerable or aggravated” that “a reasonable person in the employee’s position would be compelled to resign.”

Gottlieb’s lawsuit, filed in August, alleged age discrimination, harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Among numerous complaints, he accused his editors of “refusing to give him assignments that corresponded to his level of experience.”

Gottlieb, who had worked at the paper since 1997, said he quit in 2015 after he was “assigned to write obituaries, a demotion” upon his return from a leave for prostate cancer surgery.

He complained of a pattern of age discrimination and accused management of retaliating against him over his complaints about the distribution of award money the paper had received for the Bell coverage.

Much of the prize money was given to Gottlieb and other reporters. A portion was set aside for a staff party for the many Times journalists who contributed to the Bell coverage. When the party was not held for various reasons, Gottlieb complained, saying the money should be distributed. Most of it was ultimately donated to the Bell High School journalism program.

In a motion for summary judgment, lawyers for The Times argued that Gottlieb had not shown evidence of discrimination and had refused a request to write obituaries for a week because he “felt the request was beneath him.” The company cited two other Pulitzer Prize winners who had pitched in to write obituaries as needed.

The judge agreed and granted the motion.

Gottlieb’s attorney, Nare Avagyan, said Wednesday that she could not comment because she had not seen the ruling.

Gottlieb was represented by Shegerian & Associates, the same firm that brought a constructive termination case against The Times on behalf of sports columnist T.J. Simers. A $7.3-million judgment awarded by a jury in 2015 was later overturned by a Superior Court judge, who ruled there was insufficient evidence of constructive termination. Simers has appealed that ruling.

doug.smith@latimes.com

@LATDoug

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