Newspaper CEO entitled to damages over dismissal

A High Court judge yesterday held that the former CEO of a provincial newspaper who lost his job last year is entitled to damages for the loss which he has incurred as a consequence of his wrongful dismissal.

However, Brian Nerney, formerly of the Roscommon Herald, failed in his bid to have general damages awarded for alleged reputational damage in respect of the way his employment was terminated last year.

He claimed he suffered reputational damage after Thomas Crosbie Holdings told him by letter that he was being made redundant from his €80,000 a year job and was not to re-enter the Herald offices after that day. He sold the Herald to TCH for €10.3m in 2004.

Mr Nerney, aged 47, of Carrick Rd, Boyle, Co Roscommon, sought orders including that TCH by purporting to terminate his employment in Jul 2012 acted in the breach of his contract of employment. Mr Nerney also claimed over €400,000 gross in special damages.

TCH said it exercised its statutory entitlement to terminate Mr Nerney’s employment on grounds of redundancy and denied breach of contract or that he was caused reputational damage.

In her ruling yesterday Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said she rejected TCH’s argument that in Jun 2012 Mr Nerney was employed under a contract of indefinite duration. She said Mr Nerney was under a four-year executive contract and needed to be given at least six months’ notice. She held that TCH was in breach of contract and liable in damages for the loss Mr Nerney has incurred as a consequence of his wrongful dismissal.

She said he should be compensated for being deprived of the renumeration he would have got from under the executive contract for two years from Jul 17, 2012, including salary and an agreed 2% increase as well as bonus, car allowance, and pension contributions.

Regarding reputational damage, the judge said she considered Mr Nerney’s claims were simply not maintainable on the facts.

She said he got slightly in excess of a month’s notice that he would be made redundant and his solicitors were in correspondence with TCH. The Jul 17, 2012, letter should not have come as a surprise to him. She did not think his preclusion from access to the newspaper’s office could have in any way damaged his reputation.

She postponed making an order until the position in relation to amount of damages for loss of remuneration is re-assessed by the parties in the light of the judgment and tax calculations. The case resumes on Apr 12.

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