NEW YORK, March 13, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- In an amended complaint filed on March 12, plaintiffs in the Dolan vs. Altice lawsuit have asked the court to require Altice USA ("Altice") to perform on its promise to the Dolan Family by restoring staffing levels at News 12 to 462 for a five-year period and to appoint a third-party monitor to oversee compliance.
This request comes following a court order dated February 13, 2019, in which the Honorable Joseph R. Slights III, Vice Chancellor, Court of Chancery, State of Delaware, ordered Altice USA to maintain "Status Quo" staffing levels at News 12 for the remainder of the lawsuit and scheduled trial for September 4 – 6.
That ruling prohibits Altice from cutting further staff positions at News 12 until the matter is resolved by the Court. The order states, "During the pendency of this Action in this Court, Altice shall not terminate any News 12 employee other than (i) for actual, bona fide cause or (ii) after first obtaining prior permission from the Court."
Comments by Patrick Dolan
Patrick Dolan, who was president of News 12 at the time of its sale to Altice USA, commented, "Altice made a solemn promise to my family that it would protect News 12's amazing staff for five years after closing the Merger Agreement."
"Today's request for court intervention is the next logical step in our efforts to protect News 12's staff jobs and the quality of local programming they deliver. Altice failed to maintain staffing levels of 462 full-time equivalent employees, which they agreed to do in their contract when Altice acquired Cablevision in 2016."
"Altice should be required to restore staffing to what it was at the time of the merger. In addition, due to Altice's prior disregard of its commitments, we are also asking the court to appoint a third-party monitor to oversee Altice's compliance over a cumulative five-year period."
A website ─ www.dolanalticelawsuit.com ─ includes a link to today's amended complaint, prior legal filings and court orders, news releases as well as major media coverage on the lawsuit, a Facebook message from Patrick Dolan to News 12 employees, and a letter of support from Long Island's Fair Media Council.
Background on Lawsuit Filed September 4
Altice is no stranger to lawsuits. Records show Altice as a party to 235 lawsuits worldwide from 2016 to 2018.
A lawsuit and request to permanently enjoin Altice USA was filed September 4 in the Court of Chancery, State of Delaware by the Dolan Family against Altice USA (NYSE: ATUS) for failure to abide by promises Altice made in a 2016 Merger Agreement and for equitable fraud, among other claims.
The lawsuit targets Altice USA and alleges that the company ignored commitments made as part of its merger with Cablevision Systems Corporation ("Cablevision"). The merger of Altice and Cablevision closed in June 2016 for a value of $17.7 billion in cash consideration.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit originally included: Charles Dolan, founder and former CEO, Cablevision; Helen Dolan; James Dolan, former CEO of Cablevision; Patrick Dolan, president of News 12 at the time of the sale; and Colleen McVey, current employee of and news anchor with News 12 Networks. The lawsuit was subsequently amended to include a second long-serving anchor, Danielle Campbell.
This lawsuit was filed to protect employee jobs and programming quality at News 12, which operates a cohesive group of local news television channels throughout New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
2016 Agreement Conditions
In order to induce the sale of News 12 in 2016, Altice USA unambiguously agreed to operate News 12 substantially in accordance with the News 12 Business Plan for five years.
The business plan provided News 12 would employ full-time equivalent headcount of 462 people throughout this period.
Altice expressly recognized, accepted and agreed, in adhering to the News 12 Business Plan, to incur cumulative losses of up to $60 million, which has not occurred, in the operation of News 12 over the period to maintain the network's existing employee base, as well as the quality and legacy of News 12.
2016 Merger Agreement
A key provision of the 2016 Merger Agreement was the requirement for Altice to operate News 12 in accordance with News 12's Business Plan for a five-year period and financially support News 12 employees who were responsible for making the network special among local television stations.
Altice agreed to these nonstandard provisions in a transaction of this type, because Altice knew that continuing the rich legacy of News 12 was an important consideration for the Dolan Family and a necessary inducement for the Dolan Family to agree to the merger.
These covenants were of such importance to the merger, Cablevision highlighted these protections to its public shareholders.
Altice Breached Merger Agreement
Turning its back on its prior representations and promises, in 2017 Altice eliminated approximately 70 News 12 positions — in direct violation of News 12's agreed-upon business plan incorporated into the Merger Agreement.
In 2018, Altice informed the Dolans that Altice was on the verge of terminating dozens more News 12 employees, including Ms. McVey and Ms. Campbell, threatening to irreparably harm the quality of the local news content that News 12 creates, the livelihoods of News 12's employees, and the legacy that the Dolan Family negotiated to protect through explicit Merger Agreement provisions.
In targeting two women anchors, both dedicated 30-year veterans of News 12 – Altice may be engaging in age and/or gender bias as well as thinning News 12 staff.
Plaintiffs' lawsuit requests, in sum, that the Court enter judgment in favor of plaintiffs, enjoining Altice USA from:
Terminating employment of any current employee of News 12, other than in the ordinary course of business to replace such individual for obvious cause with another person with equivalent qualifications;
Taking any action that would cause News 12 to cease to operate in substantial compliance with the News 12 Business Plan; and
Taking any action that would, in any way, violate or breach the Merger Agreement.
The lawsuit further requests ordering Altice USA to operate News 12 in substantial compliance with the News 12 Business Plan for five cumulative years.
The plea for injunctive relief targets Altice USA because Altice ignored the commitments it made to obtain News 12 as part of its merger with Cablevision.
The purpose of the lawsuit is to protect News 12 employees, consistent with the promises made by Altice in the Merger Agreement, and to continue News 12's storied legacy as one of the foremost local television stations in the U.S.
About News 12
News 12 is a group of cohesive, regional cable news television channels serving nearly 3 million households in New York State, Connecticut, and New Jersey including two boroughs of New York City and most of Long Island.
News 12 provides news coverage 24 hours a day, and focuses on providing award-winning, hyper-local, in-depth news coverage that is rare in the United States, particularly with respect to the region it serves.
The Dolan Family deliberately and methodically built News 12 as the foremost hyper-local news source for the edification of Long Island, Bronx, Brooklyn, and other communities.
Due to the pre-merger journalistic freedom provided by Cablevision's ongoing financial support, the employees of News 12 could robustly pursue important stories addressing significant local issues relevant to millions of individuals residing in the coverage area.
No news station would have otherwise had the resources to uncover and report these vital stories.
News 12 was and is of singular importance to the Dolan Family, News 12's employees, and the viewers within News 12's coverage community.
Altice USA (NYSE: ATUS) is a Delaware corporation. Altice Europe is a Dutch company. Altice Europe is successor in interest to Altice N.V., and thereby bound to the terms of the 2016 Merger Agreement.
Altice USA is one of the largest broadband communications and video service providers in the United States, delivering broadband, pay television, telephony services, proprietary content and advertising services to approximately 4.9 million residential and business customers across 21 states through its Optimum and Suddenlink brands.
SOURCE The Dolan Family