Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sasson loses appeal in NJMG age-bias case

The Bergen County courthouse in Bergen County,...Image via Wikipedia
The media ignored the trial, held in Superior Court, Hackensack.

The unfavorable jury verdict in Victor E. Sasson's age-bias lawsuit against North Jersey Media Group has been affirmed by the Appellate Division of state Superior Court.

In a 20-page decision released this morning, a three-judge panel agreed with the verdict -- that Sasson wasn't discriminated against because of his age in the 2006 selection of the food editor, and that his 2008 firing didn't constitute retaliation by Record managers and editors upset that he filed suit several months earlier.

The appeal court said Superior Court Judge Joseph L. Conte in Hackensack didn't commit reversible error. Sasson represented himself at the trial.

Joshua L. Weiner, the plaintiff's Morristown lawyer, argued during a March 16 hearing that Conte improperly permitted the use of posts from Eye on The Record during cross-examination to impeach the plaintiff's credibility.

He also said Conte should have barred defense use of performance reviews dating to 1985 that weren't relevant to events of 2006-08.

Weiner believes Conte should have instructed the jurors to use the blog entries only for the purpose of judging the plaintiff's credibility -- and to disregard Sasson's views the paper kept on older, white male columnists, while silencing older black, Hispanic and female columnists.

At the 5-day trial in April 2010, Sasson was barred from presenting evidence of age-bias against many other employees, including Patricia Mack, The Record's food editor, who was hounded into retirement by her editor, Barbara Jaeger.

See previous post on Thursday's paper
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  1. An Anonymous comment I rejected compared me to a "piece of sidewalk chewing gum" and ended by telling me to enjoy "life in the gutter."

    It sounds like it came from one of the so-called journalists at The Record -- current or former -- whose disservice to the public I regularly expose.

  2. That was a brutal ruling. All those warts exposed. What is your next step? I'm sure your old colleagues will be coming to your defense. You can't be as bad as they said.

  3. Of course, I'm not as bad as they said.

    Any plaintiff in a discrimination case sees their reputation destroyed by the defense as a smokescreen for the jury.

    If I was as bad as they said, how did I keep my job for nearly 30 years?

  4. If all the things in the reviews were wrong, why didn't you sue earlier. If somebody accused me of spending the first half hour of my shift and the last hour of my shift sitting around and eating, I'd sue.

  5. At the end of the shift, we all sat around killing time for up to two hours because of the early deadlines. We simply ran out of stories to edit.

    Sue over what? Elimination of the dinner hour? There are no unions at The Record. Each employee faces the Borg firing squad alone.

  6. So the stuff in the reviews is right? You really at a bad employee.

  7. No. The court didn't cite any of the rebuttals I wrote to my reviews, contesting exaggerations, distortions and outright lies.

    The reviews are designed to limit raises. It is an adversarial process. I can't tell you how many times other employees would complain about the inaccuracy of their reviews.

    Near the end, I asked to have an outright lie corrected -- Liz Houlton said I reneged on writing a food article after I put in for expenses (in other words, attempted theft).

    It took three months of nagging before it was set right -- I never asked for reimbursement of expenses -- yet it appears uncorrected in this week's appeals court ruling.

    The reviews also were given at the end of the shift, around midnight or later, when the news copy editors were exhausted and their defenses were down.

    Often, you just wanted to sign the review and go home, only to realize the next day, you had signed your execution warrant.

  8. Here is the June 16 New Jersey Law Journal article on the Appellate Division ruling:

    A state appeals court on Thursday upheld a Bergen County jury's finding that a newspaper journalist was discharged after nearly 30 years because of poor performance reviews and work attitude, not his age.

    The court rejected claims that a trial judge erroneously admitted into evidence the plaintiff's performance reviews and his blog posts that criticized his former employer, The Record of Hackensack.

    Victor Sasson worked at the newspaper from 1979 until 2008, when it cut staff and consolidated with another newspaper owned by the North Jersey Media Group, The Herald News .

    Sasson was let go on May 30, 2008, after being told he could not apply for a spot on the consolidated staff because he was not an employee in good standing.

    Sasson showed early promise when first hired, but soon started receiving poor performance reviews mixed with positive ones, wrote Appellate Division Judges Victor Ashrafi, Christine Nugent and Richard Newman in Sasson v. North Jersey Media Group, A-4024-09.

    While being described as "gifted," he was admonished for "unprofessional behavior" and for being "ineffective," "superficial," "combative" and "abrasive."

    In 1991, he began asking to be promoted to assignment editor, but was told he first had to spend time as a copy editor. During that period, supervisors noted that his "mistakes tend to be the rule rather than the exception."

    Sasson was put on probation in 1995 after he took a sick day rather than a personal day to celebrate Yom Kippur.

    He later applied for the position of food editor, which he described as his "dream job." The spot went to someone in their 30s, and Sasson filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

    After he wrote an email to general counsel Jennifer Borg in 2008, he was given a final warning, and then told he would not be considered for rehiring after the newspapers' consolidation.

    (See rest of law journal story in next comment box.)

  9. New Jersey Law Journal story (continued):

    Sasson filed a complaint against The Record and its executives, alleging age bias in violation of the Law Against Discrimination.

    He also started a blog,, where he criticized the paper, its writers and editors. On Nov. 17, 2009, he wrote that the paper "contains columns by Road Warrior John Cichowski and Mike Kelly, both of whom are so far over the hill, you can no longer see the hill." And on Jan. 22, 2010: "How many older male columnists does The Record need?"

    Sasson represented himself at trial. Over Sasson's objections, Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte admitted the performance reviews and blog posts into evidence.

    On appeal, his attorney, Joshua Weiner, argued that the reviews were inadmissible hearsay and the posts were used as character evidence.

    The judges rejected those arguments.

    The performance reviews, they said, were admissible as business records under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6), because they concerned his supervisors' evaluations of his work performance.

    "The evidence from the plaintiffs' blogs and the historical evidence of his performance reviews supports defendant's position at trial that plaintiff was not the victim of age discrimination, but instead, that the employer's decision was based on his problematic job performance over many years," the judges said.

    "The blogs were admissible to impeach the good faith of plaintiff's claim that he had been damaged as the result of defendants' alleged age discrimination."

    Weiner, of Morristown's Weiner & Weiner, says he is reviewing the ruling and has not decided whether to seek certification to the Supreme Court.

    One possible point of appeal, he says, was Conte's decision not to issue a charge that the jurors should not read Sasson's blog on their own. "He had asked for a specific instruction," Weiner says. "The Appellate Division did not address that."

    The Record 's attorney, Samuel Samaro, says the postings were clear evidence that the newspaper did not violate the LAD.

    "The blog postings were very significant evidence," says Samaro, of Hackensack's Pashman Stein. "The opinion says so."

    In a posting after the trial, Sasson said Conte warned him he could be held in contempt of court because he had attempted to contact several jurors.

    "Last weekend, I checked the telephone book and found listings for six of the eight jurors who heard my age-discrimination lawsuit," he wrote on April 22, 2010.

    "I left messages on answering machines, but reached only one of them. He hung up on me. A second juror's husband said she was upset by my message, and didn't want to talk. A woman who sounded like the mother of a third juror said she didn't know when he would be returning," he wrote.

    "I was more interested in their interpretation of the evidence I had presented than in their deliberations," he added.

  10. Ate you the same guy who left his ID on your next to last day or work and then called in sick on the last day?

  11. Yup. And I was docked one day of pay, though there is nothing in the employee manual about not being able to call in sick on your last day.

    Remember, I was fired because I protested the treatment of older newsroom workers and filed a suit on my behalf, not because of my performance.

    If my performance and "combativeness" were the real reasons, I should been have fired years earlier. They were just a smokescreen -- exactly what employers do when charged with age discrimination.

    I covered a lot of age-discrimination cases in federal and state courts as a reporter. The laws are weak and employers think nothing of perjuring themselves to fight the charges.

  12. HR in this company is a joke. Making up policies as they go along and interpreting them however they please.

  13. Exactly.

    Veteran staffers still are fuming about Jennifer Borg capping severance pay at 12 weeks. So even if you were there 30 years, you just got a measly 12 weeks pay.

    A lawyer told me that was illegal, but I couldn't get the EEOC interested.

  14. Dont give up Victor you came this far, Go to the Supreme Court. Never give in! Something Good will come of this.. Good Luck.

  15. Thanks. I'll be putting my energy into "Eye on The Record," and exposing the Borg family and their lazy, incompetent editors.

  16. Hi,Victor,I just happened to read the docket # ragarding appeal in NJMG age-bias case, and couldn't stop finishing it. While reading, I thought, if you'd been that much a bad performer as they argued, they wouldn't have had you as a writer at the Record for so long like you pointed it out somewhere above. I wish you good luck--Mikky

  17. Thanks. I appreciate your comment and good wishes.


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