There’s a school of thought among some Kansas City Star reporters – past and present – that fired former columnist Steve Penn‘s lawsuit against the newspaper didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades…
Penn got the ax a year and a half ago for including passages from press releases in his some of his columns.
But Penn didn’t just quietly get let go as is usually the case, the newspaper fired him, then burned him at the public stake.
That was then.
Former Star editor Jim Fitzpatrick told me last year he’d discussed Penn’s “case” with one of the Star‘s lead reporters and, “He was shaking his head,” Fitz said. “The way he was talking he didn’t expect the Star to settle” the lawsuit.
“If this goes to trial anything could come out and they would not let a guy go unless they had plenty of ammunition,” Fitzpatrick continued. “They would have just demoted him unless they had plenty of (dirt) on the guy. The last thing they’d want to do is fire a high profile black employee because their numbers on diversity hires are so poor.”
Turns out Penn’s naysayers were wrong though because his lawsuit is alive and well.
“It’s still going on,” Penn says. “The big development is the Star was trying to get it quashed – and it took about three months -but the judge finally ruled that the Star‘s argument didn’t have any merit.”
“I got served some papers about a month ago and I answered their questions,” Penn says. “The Star was just trying to determine how strong my case was without deposing me. They probably just got my answers last week.”
The $64 million question: Would the Star dare allow controversial editor Mike Fannin to take the witness stand?
In the meantime, Penn says he’s continuing to build his case.
“I was doing my due diligence and was trying to find an expert to support my argument and I contacted the Public Relations Society of America,” Penn says. “And I got a statement from a gentleman there that ultimately agreed with my case that nothing that I did amounted to plagiarism and the Star was barking up the wrong tree with that argument.
“He said that it is almost sort of a given with a press release that you can use it anyway you want,” Penn continues. “And to go to the step that the Star did to call that plagiarism was a bridge too far.”
When Penn looks back at his 31 years at the newspaper what does he reflect on?
“You know, I don’t,” he says. “I really don’t. I look towards the future.”