Messenger Execs Sue Failed Startup for Reneging on Big Payouts Promised to Them

Messenger Execs Sue Failed Startup for Reneging on Big Payouts Promised to Them

A month after Jimmy Finkelstein’s quixotic media startup The Messenger crashed and burned, suddenly leaving hundreds jobless, three business-side executives are suing the media mogul’s “centrist” news site for welching on the hefty severance packages promised to them.

In a complaint filed in New York County this week against The Messenger, former sales executives Danielle Varvaro, Christopher Parks, and Brad Bosserman allege that their employment agreements with Finkelstein promised each of them at least six months of their salary if they were terminated without cause. Based on their compensation, each of the plaintiffs is seeking at least $150,000 plus interest and attorneys’ fees. The Washington Post’s Will Sommer first reported last week that the executives planned to sue.

According to the lawsuit, Varvaro and Parks were hired by Finkelstein a few months before The Messenger officially launched in May 2023. Headquartered in New York, both of them were brought in to lead the company’s sales division and signed similar employment agreements.

“Should the Company terminate your employment without ‘Cause’ then, the Company shall pay you your base salary for a period of three (3) months if you are terminated during the first twelve (12) months of your employment and six (6) months if you are terminated thereafter, less applicable taxes and withholdings (‘Severance’),” the lawsuit claims the two employees’ contracts read.

Bosserman, meanwhile, was hired a month before The Messenger’s launch to be the head of partnerships in the company’s Washington, D.C. office. His contract, according to the lawsuit, also promised him six months of his base salary if he was left unemployed.

“The sudden closure of The Messenger does not absolve it from its contractual obligations to employees, and we believe the courts will agree,” the executives’ attorney Andrew Mancilla told The Daily Beast. “Our lawsuit highlights a disturbing trend of those with immense wealth playing fast and loose with the lives of those who work for them. That’s not acceptable.”

The Messenger, which burned through $50 million in startup cash in less than a year, abruptly closed shop on January 31 after Finkelstein spent the previous few weeks frantically trying to raise $20 million to keep the bloated news site afloat. In a termination notice, sent after staff learned of the company’s closure from news reports, The Messenger’s employees were informed there was “no entitlement to severance benefits under Company policy.”

The executives, however, claim they were not bound by the company’s standard policy and that Finkelstein breached their individual contracts. (The company’s employee handbook, meanwhile, did promise all impacted employees at least one-and-a-half weeks of severance pay in the event of a mass layoff or restructuring.)

“At the time of Plaintiffs Parks’, Varvaro’s, and Bosserman’s termination, the severance provisions in their Employment Agreements entitled them to severance payments in the amounts of $175,000, $175,000, and $150,000, respectively,” the lawsuit states.

It is no secret that Finkelstein offered above-average salaries and generous severance packages to convince talented journalists and sales employees to join the risky new company. In a Vanity Fair op-ed earlier this month, former chief White House correspondent Amie Parnes claimed Finkelstein personally begged her to leave her job at The Hill, promising her a comfortable salary and four months of severance if she jumped ship. In the end, much like the rest of the staff, she was left with nothing.

This is at least the second lawsuit that Finkelstein has been hit with since shuttering The Messenger. A day after the shutdown, ex-employees filed a class action lawsuit against the company demanding 60 days’ worth of severance pay and benefits, including health and life insurance coverage. The complaint alleges that The Messenger violated New York’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act by failing to give its nearly 300 employees proper notice ahead of their termination.

Since then, the out-of-work staffers started a GoFundMe to raise $50,000 to help their colleagues pay bills and rent. Following the launch of the fundraiser, Finkelstein told Axios that he was weighing severance payments to his hundreds of jilted staffers while calling the GoFundMe “wonderful,” prompting his ex-employees to liken him to a “Scooby Doo villain.”

After his Axios interview, Finkelstein notified his former staffers by email that a trustee would now be taking charge of the company’s wind-down and any “employee claims,” suggesting that The Messenger was heading into bankruptcy proceedings. “I apologize for not being immediately responsive to some of your emails,” he added.

Finkelstein did not respond to a request for comment.

The Daily Beast

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