Gene DeWitt, who was terminated as president of the Syndicated Network Television Association this summer, has taken his former employer to court. In a complaint filed at New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, DeWitt sued SNTA for breach of what was supposed to have been a three-year employment contract.
He asked the court to order the trade association to pay him at least $1.25 million in wages that he claims would have been due him if he had served out the full term of his contract. Under it, he said, he was supposed to earn $500,000 a year in salary with a possible bonus of up to $150,000.
The former ad executive served a little more than a year before being fired, he said, "without cause." SNTA, however, strongly disagrees, arguing in its reply papers that DeWitt was fired for "insubordination, disobedience and failure to follow the proper directives of the [SNTA] board of directors." Thus, the organization argued, he doesn't deserve additional compensation under the terminated employment contract.
At issue is whether a letter DeWitt wrote to and which was published by a media trade magazine in July constituted "malfeasance" by the head of a trade association whose members sell TV time to advertisers in syndicated programs. In it, he charged "most buyers" of TV time with "whining and moaning" about the way the upfront market unfolded in 2003—that is, with very steep price increases. "The solution is not to whine," DeWitt wrote, but rather "to find a solution."
His complaint argues that writing the letter didn't constitute malfeasance on his part. SNTA says it did. "He called our clients whiners. These people spend billions of dollars with us," said one person involved in the dispute. "You can't call them whiners. The whole charter of the SNTA is to facilitate good client relations." Some of those "whiners" let the SNTA know they were steamed by DeWitt's letter, sources say.
Said SNTA Chairman Howard Levy, "We were 100% right in terminating his agreement. Gene's insubordination and failure to follow the board's instructions gave us cause."