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John Garziglia

What if Your Talent Wants Out of His Contract?

In our "Ask The Attorney" segment we always try to come up with a question that have a real possibility of taking place at your station. This question came to us as a result of what's going on in Birmingham where Cumulus is battling with Paul Finebaum who has a signed contract but has filed a lawsuit against Cumulus. The interesting part of the Birmingham story is Finebaum is still on the air with Cumulus.

What should General Managers be aware of if one of their talents (under contract) decides to challenge the contract he signed by filing a lawsuit against them?

John Garziglia says:
If radio stations could operate without egotistical, big-headed, narcissistic air talent, it would make our business so much easier.  But, that is not generally the case, at least not as long as DJ-on-a-computer-chip “Denise” sounds more like R2D2 than girl (she is sort of virtually attractive, however).  But back to the question at hand which concerns a falling out between contractual air talent and the radio station. 

If the radio station is being sued by the air talent, then either the air talent wants to be relieved of his or her obligations for continuing services under the contract, or the radio station failed to pay the compensation stated or otherwise failed to uphold its obligations and promises under the contract.  Hopefully, the radio station was well represented in its drafting of the contract. Every employment contract lawsuit is fact-specific and state-law specific.  There is no way to make general observations about such a lawsuit.

There are FCC rule-related and general observations that can be made about an air talent lawsuit situation.  While it may be obvious, the radio station is liable for everything that goes over the air emanating from the disgruntled air talent.  There are a variety of ways that air talent can create FCC and legal issues – indecency, contest rule violations, payola, station ID, EAS, copyright infringement, and a general liability of the radio station for libel and slander. 

While an air talent who wants to leave his or her employment and is suing to do so would presumably not give the radio station legal reasons for his or her termination under the contract and a possible counter-suit, it all depends upon the integrity of the air talent and the desire of the air talent for continuing employment in our industry. 

High-profile experienced air talent will not likely jeopardize their career and their contractual claims by engaging in conduct that is a breach of the contract or radio station policy.  But, if an adverse situation does arise, it does not hurt to remind even experienced air talent what is required by the contract and radio station policy.  At this point, the radio station will have its counsel assisting in the defense of the lawsuit so that counsel should be fully consulted on any such issues arising. 

And looking to the future, once the lawsuit is resolved, it serves the radio station well to recap exactly what happened to lead to a lawsuit situation between the air talent and the radio station in the first instance, and what provisions in the radio station’s employment contract with air talent can be strengthened to attempt to avoid a lawsuit in the future.  Or, if a lawsuit is filed by disgruntled air talent who wishes to prematurely leave for greener grass, how the radio station might possibly be put into a better legal position the next time such litigation is filed by air talent wishing to walk. 

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