Hartford Courant Newspaper Columnist Says He Was Ousted Over Free Speech Issue

George Gombossy, a former consumer affairs columnist for the Hartford Courant, sued the newspaper and its owner, the Chicago-based Tribune Co., claiming the companies violated his free speech rights by forcing him out of his job.
Gombossy wrote columns and blogs that were critical of Courant advertisers, to which the newspaper’s owners took issue, saying the newspaper couldn’t afford to lose the business. In April, Gombossy told his editors he plann3ed to write a column about a state investigation into Sleepy’s, a mattress company that advertises with the Courant. As a result, Gombossy’s position was eliminated.
Gombossy’s attorney said this was the first time a journalist has used a state law that protects free speech in the workplace to protest a firing on grounds he was trying to protect consumers and keep his newspaper ”trustworthy.”
A spokesperson for the Courant says Gombossy had no contract for continued employment and the companies had the right to make a business decision to eliminate his position, a decision it stands by and will defend.
Gombossy has since started his own consumer affairs website www.ctwatchdog.com. He worked for the Courant for more than 40 years and was chosen to write the consumer affairs column 2007. He says he received excellent performance reviews and his column was widely promoted by the newspaper.
His suit seeks past and future economic losses, including fringe and retirement benefits, punitive damages and attorneys fees.
[Source: The Associated Press, September 29, 2009]

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