On Wednesday, Jan. 31, online outlet The Messenger abruptly shut down. That shutdown came after months of reports of the company’s funding issues, including one earlier in the month that they only had enough cash to run through the month, and it came after an earlier round of layoffs. But the actual shutdown came incredibly suddenly, with many employees finding out the news through a report in The New York Times rather than internal communications. And Wednesday saw the company quickly closing its Slack server and pulling down its website.
That quick shuttering has now led to a lawsuit from some former employees saying the company didn’t comply with New York law on layoff notification. And that led to a quote-tweet from former The Messenger college basketball writer Seth Davis on how California employees found this out through payouts of unused vacation days rather than proper channels, and didn’t hear back from leadership until after the media reports on the closure.
We knew it was coming because those of us who live in California got paid Weds for unused vacation days. Waited all day for word from leadership. Not a peep. Read about the closure in the NYT. Got the official email. Kaput. So they knew for days it was coming and didn't tell us. https://t.co/YEt8Kwo9wS
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 2, 2024
Here’s more from the Huffington Post piece there (by Marita Vlachou) on the lawsuit:
Plaintiff Pilar Belendez-Desha, a senior producer at the outlet based in New York, brought a class lawsuit in the Southern District of New York “on behalf of herself and other similarly situated former employees who worked for [The Messenger] and were terminated without cause.”
Belendez-Desha cites the state’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires businesses to give advance warning to employees about upcoming layoffs to allow them to seek alternate positions. Specifically, they allege the company did not provide them “60 days advance written notice of their terminations,” as stipulated in the WARN Act.
“Plaintiff and all similarly situated employees seek to recover up to 60 days wages and benefits,” the lawsuit adds.
The Messenger’s abrupt closing is even messier than what happened at Sports Illustrated last month. After owner Authentic Brands Group pulled publisher Arena Group’s license for SI, Arena laid off some SI employees immediately (which is part of a union grievance against them), but then said employees are “entitled to any applicable WARN or notice period outlined in the union agreement.” And the SI website remains up for employees to grab clips, and the outlet is still publishing new stories online and in print (although with some controversies on that latter front too), there are talks of a new deal with Arena or a new publisher. So it’s quite something to see a media outlet close in even more of a dramatic and unfortunate way than what happened at SI.
While The Messenger was largely focused on politics and news, it did have a significant sports presence. That included the hires of Davis and fellow college basketball personality Jeff Goodman, as well as others including Ryan Nanni (college football), Arash Markazi (sports & pop culture), Mike Tanier (NFL), Neil Paine (a former FiveThirtyEight editor), Kaelen Jones (football), Christian Red (a veteran New York Daily News writer), and more. And that’s now sadly gone away, and in a highly unfortunate way for those impacted. And even with the company implosion, there certainly were better ways for those in charge to handle the shutdown. We’ll see what happens with this lawsuit.