Cumulus Sues Ex-GM for $1 Million

Here’s an inside story you won’t find in the happy talk press.

The Dickey family is channeling its mean genes in what appears to me to be a retaliatory strike against a manager who had the audacity to – well, quit and get a better job with Cox.

Kristin Okesson left the Dickey Dynasty as manager of the Danbury, CT and Westchester, NY clusters. Let’s do what they do before you see the next episode of an HBO original series – recap.

Previously on Entourage (Lew, John, Gary Pizzati) …

The Dickeys took Okesson to U.S. District Court in Bridgeport and in a court opinion handed down on April 22 of this year, the judge interpreted the employment contract at issue largely in Okesson’s favor. She wasn’t ordered to stay away from previous Cumulus customers in Danbury.

The judge did prohibit Okesson from helping a fellow employee to spring from his imprisonment and was told not to solicit Cumulus employees directly. She also had to return some items in dispute that were alleged to be confidential.

And that was it.

Until now.

Cumulus has alleged that Okesson has done Cumulus dirt to the tune of $1 million large even after henchman Gary Pizzati testified twice under oath that he could not identify any damages that resulted from Kristin Okesson’s departure.

Now Mr. Mean Genes himself is asking the judge for a pre-judgment attachment on her home for $1 million to cover the possibility – as remote as it seems – on the odd chance that Cumulus prevails in court.

As if that were not enough, Cumulus wants to seize Okesson’s bank accounts – that’s right, checking and savings even though that action could create a financial nightmare for Okesson, her husband and children.

So, on October 19 and 21st the matter will be before Her Honor Judge Holly Fitzsimmons in Bridgeport who will take testimony and then subsequently render a judgment. Certainly Okesson is sweating it out – and considering that Cumulus has not been able to identify any damage due to her departure on the record, their legal action appears to be retaliatory.

Wait until you hear what pissed them off.

You don’t leave the Dickey boys.

And boys they are apparently because Okesson has filed a gender discrimination suit against the boys club. More on that later.

Pizzati, who has apparently rethought his sworn testimony, is now also alleging that 13 Cumulus customers are spending less money with them directly due to Okesson’s departure. Apparently it’s now scorched earth because Pizzati actually fingered the 13 advertisers.

And many of them are not happy.

Okesson has about six affidavits saying the reason these advertisers are not spending with Cumulus now is because of the economy. Several more affidavits are in the mail and other Cumulus advertisers have reportedly agreed that it’s the economy, stupid. Counsel for Okesson doesn’t rule out that all 13 may actually repudiate the Cumulus accusation that Okesson is in fact a one-person recession.

Pizzati implicated the Cumulus advertisers even though he admitted on the record that he never asked a single one of them about the situation. In other words, it appears Pizzati just made it up.

Even the currently employed Cumulus sales manager in Danbury in his sworn deposition reportedly said the losses were due to the economy in essence not backing up his boss.

Pizzati claims an over $800,000 loss of business in Danbury and Westchester, the markets Okesson managed, between July of 2009 and March 2010 directly attributable to Okesson.

Then he wants $140,000 more for the 13 lucky advertisers who he says pulled back their spending because the Cumulus general manager left.

Oh, and $100,000 plus in legal fees.

Boy, those Dickeys sure get mad when a female employee leaves them before they can fire her.

As mentioned, Okesson filed her gender discrimination suit with the EEOC against none other than Gary Pizzati. Okesson is asking the EEOC for permission to sue privately for discrimination.

Okesson is alleging retaliation for filing the EEOC claim midsummer which is allegedly why Cumulus came back with the $1 million lien and strategy to freeze her bank accounts.

Let’s make sense of all this (if possible):

1. To me it is mean to act in what I think is a punitive way against an outstanding GM who was quickly hired by Cox – another thing that I think sticks in Lew Dickey’s craw.

2. It sends a lousy message to Cumulus employees many of whom don’t like working for Dickey and who want to leave as soon as they can find another job.

3. Naming advertisers – especially without consulting them – in Cumulus litigation is a breach of ethics in my opinion. The advertisers are being used as pawns to build the Cumulus case. I can tell you if Cumulus competed with me in a market I managed, I’d tell all their advertisers to be careful when you do business with them. You could wind up as an accessory to a court case as an unexpected consequence of paying them for advertising. This is just bad sales strategy in any economy.

4. The real story is the discrimination suit against Pizzati that Cumulus obviously does not want to see proceed. It could launch a lot of similar discrimination suits (and I predicted that Cumulus would spend the next few years in court on employment matters) that could be costly and embarrassing.

What has happened to the radio industry?

Why are some big CEOs behaving badly?

However as bad as this is, I can end on a happy note – and a very encouraging one.

Okesson who left Cumulus now works for Cox, a recognized excellent employer with a good record of employee relations.

Cox could have stood back and let their valued new hire dangle in the wind on her own as she spent all her money to fight what could turn out to be frivolous lawsuits.

Instead, Cox is picking up Okesson’s entire legal bill – all of it.

There are still great operators left in radio and when they put their money where their mouth is, it gives all of us great hope.

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