Gilbert sues Clear Channel


Former Critical Mass Media President Carolyn Gilbert is the latest former employee to head to court with Clear Channel Communications. Gilbert has filed in a Texas court, where CCU is headquartered, seeking a declarative judgment that she is not bared by a non-compete clause from going to work for Tribune Company and is owed severance for her 27 years of service at Critical Mass Media. Gilbert claims she had an amiable departure deal cut with Clear Channel, then the company changed the terms.

RBR/TVBR sought comment from Clear Channel HQ, but none had been received yesterday.

Gilbert is the second former CCU employee to wind up in court fighting the company over whether or not Tribune Company, primarily a newspaper/television company, competes with Clear Channel, primarily a radio/billboard company. A federal judge recently issued a temporary restraining order blocking Andrew Friedman from going to work for Tribune.

Gilbert summed up her side of the disagreement in an email to RBR/TVBR and other publications:

“I’ve never particularly liked the idea of the whiny, ex-employee finding a reason to sue an ex-employer over this or that issue.  When you and your boss don’t see eye to eye, for whatever reason, I think you both should just move on to more satisfying relationships.

This is why I thought so long and hard before filing a motion for Declarative Judgment and a demand letter against Clear Channel on Friday, June 13th.  I did this to encourage them to keep their word.

On May 22nd, my supervisor at Clear Channel wrote the following words in an e-mail to me:

‘Good to proceed. Everything as discussed. 6 months plus stock value when closed. Want 30 days before accepting non competitive position. 

I assumed that would be fine. John (Hogan)  understands a Tribune position is likely. Would not stand in way assuming all usual severance agreement assurances are in place.’

On June 4th, a document confirming our separation was sent to me from the Clear Channel legal department.  It included the following clause, in addition to and in conflict with the non-compete agreement I’d already signed in 2007:

‘Employee acknowledges that the Tribune Company ("Tribune") is a competitor of Company and represents that she does not intend to be and shall not be hired or engaged by Tribune during the Non-Compete Period referenced in Section 2.1 hereunder (11 months). Employee acknowledges that this representation is material to Company in connection with this Severance Agreement.’

Of course, I didn’t sign it.  I had a deal with Clear Channel.  They were to pay severance due after 27 years of unblemished service to the company, and I was moving on to a new career at the Tribune Company.  There had been no secret about where I was going. 

Clear Channel sent me a letter threatening a lawsuit on Thursday, June 12, 2008.  . 

So, at this point, I had no choice but to file against them.  They fired me.  They made a deal.  They broke the deal.  And now, they don’t want me to work. 

I would still prefer that we both move on.  I ask only that they keep the deal they made, and that I agreed to in good faith.  I still don’t like lawsuits.”

Gilbert started Critical Mass Media in 1981 with Frank “Bo” Wood, initially to do market research for Wood’s WEBN-FM Cincinnati. Both WEBN and Critical Mass Media were sold to Jacor Communications in 1986 and Wood became President of Jacor, a position he held for three years. When Jacor was recapitalized by Sam Zell in 1992, Jacor CEO Randy Michaels personally purchased Critical Mass Media from the company, then sold it back to Jacor in 1999, just before the Jacor merger into Clear Channel.

Now, Michaels and Zell want Gilbert back on their team

RBR/TVBR observation: It was no surprise to anyone that Gilbert would be recruited by Randy Michaels to work at the new Tribune Company. It is not terribly surprising, either, that Gilbert and Clear Channel are heading to court. Folks in San Antonio were getting more than a little annoyed with the repeated talent raids by the former CEO of Clear Channel Radio.