Update on litigation against NewsGuild members

In June 2021 Mike Elk filed a lawsuit against four NewsGuild-CWA members, the international union and the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh alleging breach of contract over his sources, misrepresentation, defamation and other claims. His lawsuit against our members, myself included, came in the wake of sexual harassment allegations in our Pittsburgh local.

We believe that Elk’s lawsuit is meritless and are vigorously defending against his claims in court.

As Defendants, we are obligated to provide materials in discovery to Elk. In August, we responded to hundreds of requests for documents and questions from Elk. We turned over more than 1,400 pages of documents, including my communications with Ben Smith, a former media columnist at the New York Times. In our request to Elk for information, we asked for his correspondence with Smith, which relates directly to his claims in the lawsuit. We also asked Elk for any other communications he had related to his allegations.

We first asked him for relevant documents on September 19, 2022. Because Elk failed to fully comply with his discovery obligations, after many requests for him to do so, we were forced to file a motion to compel. On September 14, 2023, the Court granted our motion and ordered Elk to, “comply with discovery within thirty (30) days of this date of this Order or appropriate sanctions shall be imposed upon Plaintiff.” The deadline to produce these documents is Monday. To date, he has not provided the requested material.

Curiously, on Friday, Smith, now editor-in-chief at Semafor, reached out asking for comment. He wrote: “​​Jon — Ben Smith here, with I suspect something you may want to kick to comms: But apparently in the ongoing Mike Elk lawsuit, the Guild has demanded all correspondence between Elk and New York Times reporters including me. I was surprised News Guild would go after confidential reporter correspondence, and obviously the Times is agitated about it, though I think it’s within your legal rights. Anything you can tell me?”

We are seeking Elk’s communications as they relate to his allegations against our members, including allegations related directly to Smith’s reporting (a New York Times column that ran in Dec. 2020). Elk cannot ask for justice and also seek to deny it to those who he accuses by refusing to provide the relevant requested information. Despite Smith’s innuendo, we have not and will not serve discovery requests on The New York Times, or any reporter, for this information.

We have an obligation to vigorously defend our members in the workplace and in the courtroom and we will continue to do so. While this lawsuit has been an unfortunate distraction and has taken resources from our members, we will continue to organize thousands of workers into our union and support campaigns that increase our members’ wages, improve benefits, and safeguard a craft that has been under attack for years.

After sexual harassment allegations were raised in Pittsburgh, our members and leaders took several steps to improve our culture and fight harassment in every form in our union. Pittsburgh members immediately asked for the local president’s resignation. He resigned from office and quit his job at the Post-Gazette. We then held town halls and one-on-one listening sessions with our members and crafted a path forward intended to prevent anything like this from happening again. We approved significantly stronger anti-sexual harassment procedures and policies, including a new complaint process for sexual harassment survivors and a new training program for members and leaders. All of this has been extensively covered and communicated on our website and in numerous messages to our membership.

If you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reach out to me at jschleuss@cwa-union.org.