By Stein, M. L.
Editor & Publisher , Vol. 128, No. 27
THREE FORMER DAY-rate freelancers for the Los Angeles Times have filed a class action suit against the newspaper, charging discrimination in wages and benefits compared to staff members.
The complaint by photographers Jerry L. Mennenga and Marilyn Yael Swerdlow and reporter Patrick K. McCartney also names the Times' parent company, Times Mirror Co., and 50 John Does.
The three, who recently worked in the Times' Ventura County bureau, assert that although they performed virtually the same tasks as the regulars, they received lower wages and were not eligible for the paper's 401K pension plan, company health insurance, unemployment compensation and disability benefits, sick days, paid vacations and the retirement system.
Mennenga said in an interview that the suit is on behalf of all Times' freelancers, adding, "How far should an individual allow a corporation to use him? If the Times wants people to be freelancers, then it should organize their usage as magazines do, pay better day rates and not expect us to work shifts like their regular staff members."
The cameraman said he was paid a day rate of $160 plus expenses for a four-day week before he was fired last year over what has become a disputed matter.
Although not mentioned in the Superior Court suit, Mennenga said the dismissal followed his complaint to management that he should be paid extra for a feature photo he shot that was later used by the promotion department. The 40-year-old Mennenga, who previously worked as a staffer for the Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram and other dailies, said the Times paid him him $650 for the promotion picture after his lawyer demanded the money in a letter. "A few days later, the photo editor called me in and told me I was out," he recalled.
Mennenga said he believes the firing was in retaliation for his insistence on being paid for the photo, an assertion that was denied by Times senior editor Carol Stogsdill and Ventura editor Julie Wilson.
Stogsdill said Mennenga was let go as part of a personnel downsizing in the Times' Ventura, Orange County and San Fernando Valley bureaus.
"The editorial department had nothing to do with his complaint about the photograph," Stogsdill said. "That was between Mennenga and the promotion department."
"That sounds pretty bogus," Mennenga retorted when told of Stogsdill's statement. …