The Daily threatens ex-staffer for tweeting objection to story he reported

Earlier this month, Luke Kummer tweeted this objection to the handling of his reporting a half-hour after resigning from The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad publication.

He then received this warning from the HR manager for The Daily and New York Post:

From: Bontzolakes, Lainie
Date: Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 4:25 PM
Subject: The Daily
To: Luke Jerod Kummer

Luke,

I understand you submitted your resignation to The Daily earlier today, effectively immediately. As such, I’d like to request that you return the company equipment in your possession (VPN key). Please mail to Beryl Shereshewsky at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, 9th FL, New York, NY 10036.

Further, it’s come to my attention that following your resignation, you sent the below Tweet:

@daily story on Iranian ninjas has nothing to do with my reporting. I object to it in every way. I wrote straight w/o absurd sensationalism.

As you should recall, when you joined The Daily, you signed a Non-Disclosure/Non-Compete Agreement. In section 5 of that Agreement (see attached) you agreed that during your employment and for two years after, you “will not criticize, ridicule, or make any statement which disparages or is derogatory of the Company or its affiliates, or any of their representative employees or business products or services.”

It goes without saying that you are currently in breach of your contractual obligations to the Company. Should you engage in any further misconduct, you will leave The Daily no choice but to sue you for injunctive relief, money damages and attorneys’ fees, as provided for under the Agreement. While we have no desire to sue you, that is something only you can control. Please do the right thing and immediately refrain from any further breaches of your contractual obligations.

Regards,

Lainie Bontzolakes
Senior HR Manager, Generalist

Here is the Non-Disclosure/Non-Compete Agreement she refers to:


/CONTINUES ON THE NEXT PAGE

Comments

comments

20 comments
  1. Heidi said:

    I find this kind of NDA totally objectionable. If you resign over what you feel is your company being unethical (i.e., sensationalizing a story), shouldn’t this fall under some sort of whistle-blowing protection?

  2. Jim Frazier said:

    He can resign. Which he did. But what he agreed to was: “…will not criticize…”

    If there was a law violation, that’s different.

    Ya sign it, ya live by it. Otherwise don’t sign it. Why is that so hard?

  3. Heidi said:

    @Jim Frazier – Whistle blower protection protects both law violations and unethical practices. I assume the The Daily/News Corp. doesn’t have whistle blower protection as a company policy but that’s what I’m getting at…

    There should be a standard to protect whistle blowers. Federal (and most state) employees already have it. Why shouldn’t private company employees enjoy the same benefit – ESPECIALLY news organizations, where that’s a large part of what we’re expected to do!

  4. trey said:

    That depends. Many countries/states have specific labor laws that override any employment contracts. California comes to mind as one with many employee protections that have negated aspects of employment contracts. This doesn’t stop companies from getting new employees to sign these employment documents but it does represent a problem with enforcement. I don’t know what geographical jurisdiction his employment would fall under.

  5. Jim Frazier said:

    Not an expert here but most of the laws related to employment contracts have to do with non-compete, not non-disclosure.

  6. Since I didn’t sign the NDA, I’m happy to freely say the following:

    You are a weasel, Lainie!

  7. TimAlexander said:

    I don’t believe this is a whistle blowing type of situation.

    If you don’t like how your writing style was tweaked to perhaps make your story more tabloid-y, you should either address it with your eds., or quit if it’s not acceptable to you. Every news outlet has their style and if theirs doesn’t suit you, quit and go somewhere that is more suited to you. But to tweet about it while you are employed by them — Nah, I hope they do sue this guy.

    Too many of these types of complaining/whining journos running around these days.

  8. “Too many of these types of complaining/whining journos running around these days.”

    Yes, and they all got an award for righting gud in skool every yer.

  9. Steve Cook said:

    I’m curious, Tim. Are you, or have you been, a journalist?

  10. mondogarage said:

    Whatever, they’re just going to hack into his cellphone and delete the Tweet, anyway.

  11. Mr Crocus said:

    Lainie Bontzolakes is clearly a made-up name, making it impossible to take any of it seriously. In any case, Mr Murdoch is doing a fine job of screwing his reputation up all by himself.

  12. Bill Reader said:

    I bet the employment contract for Darth Vader’s Empire was less draconian … but then, Rupert probably can’t do that Dark-Side, lackey-choking trick.

  13. Mr. Crocus:

    I can’t see how you can assert with such confidence that “Lainie Bontzolakes is clearly a made-up name”.

    Unless, of course, you’ve been looking at the list of people who have friended Romenesko on Facebook and encountered “Lainie Bontzolakes”, in which case I withdraw my objection and apologize.

  14. Jim said:

    Mr. Crocus —

    I’m a little disappointed that a Romenesko reader didn’t bother to Google the name before claiming it was made up.

    There’s plenty of evidence that Lainie Bontzolakes is the Daily/New York Post HR person. (I also have her nypost.com email address.)

    Let’s start here: http://bit.ly/AsfEQR

  15. Anonymous Coward said:

    This sort of Non-Compete/Non-Disclosure is increasingly popular among mega-publishers, even though they’re illegal in many jurisdictions. They’re reportedly still legal in New York (where The Daily is HQ’d), but they’re not in California (where must of its iPad competition is).

    See Lawyer: Where’s the journalist who leaves Halifax supposed to get a job? at Poynter.org.

  16. Draconian Non-Compete/Non-Disclosure clauses are common in many professions, including journalism. And it’s not so simple as to say “Just don’t sign it if you don’t like it.” If the employer insists, how many of us can afford to turn down a job over a contract clause?

    And even if the clause is illegal, how many of us can afford to take on a legal battle that could get very expensive very quickly?

  17. so The Daily = assholes. what a surprise.

    in any case it is a total POS, not worth even looking at. it will be gone in 2 years, if not less.

    dt

  18. Chris said:

    “While we have no desire to sue you, that is something only you can control.”

    Why is that lawyers can never help but be a little condescending when delivering these things?

  19. Del Boca Vista said:

    “Why is that lawyers can never help but be a little condescending when delivering these things?”

    My theory is they watch way too many legal dramas. I get this fairly regularly from lawyers who make chest-beating initial contacts filled with legalese, looking to intimidate or bully the recipient before the e-mail/call is directed to the legal department. I’m sure they change their tune instantly when dealing with other lawyers, especially lawyers at well-funded legal departments.

  20. Fisher Adams said:

    Odd. When you join a publication aren’t you aware of what type of style they adhere to? And why invoke “whistle-blowing”? Did someone witness a law being broken?
    If one wrote for any other publication under the News Corp hood (The Wall St. Journal, Dow Jones wire service, NY Post) and later resigned and tweeted that their type of reporting wasn’t to their standard after signing an NDA, what would be expected of them?
    A job usually consists of bosses and employees. If your boss tells you how to do your job, regardless of what it is, usually you do it, right? And if you don’t, you risk getting fired, right? I’d be amused to hear how other editors feel about their writers telling them how to do their jobs. I’d also venture to think that this Luke fellow will have a hell of a time explaining to his future employer how he will adhere to the rules of the house.