Current TV accuses Olbermann of breach of contract
Company co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt are "dilettantes," Olbermann's suit says
Olbermann says he's owed $50 million to $70 million in cash and equity compensation
Current TV terminated Olbermann last week
Current TV filed a countersuit Friday against its former star employee Keith Olbermann, a day after the television personality filed his suit against the company. Current TV, co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, ousted Olbermann last week.
The company’s 16-page suit, filed in California Superior Court, accuses Olbermann of breach of contract and dismisses as “fiction” the charges Olbermann leveled against it Thursday.
“In particular, Current seeks a determination that it is no longer obligated to pay a dime to Mr. Olbermann who, having already been paid handsomely for showing up sporadically and utterly failing to keep his end of the bargain, now seeks to be paid tens of millions more for not working at all,” says the cross-complaint, which was signed by Laura W. Brill, a lawyer for Current TV.
The cross-complaint says that Olbermann leaked the financial terms of his contract; refused to help promote the network; was absent 19 of 41 working days in January and February; and refused to participate in Current’s caucus and primary election coverage specials, then changed his mind just before the Iowa Caucuses.
Current said it has upheld its end of the bargain, and then some, despite criticism from Olbermann, who was its highest-paid employee.
“For example, he arrogantly and falsely calls ‘cheap’ the company that has paid him the highest compensation he had ever received in his career, provided him the largest staff of any program he had ever anchored, given him the largest studio and custom-designed set on which he had ever worked, and paid over $50,000 in an eight-month period to eight different limousine companies because none of the previous seven were able to meet his Patrician standards for how to drive him around New York City,” the cross-complaint says.
It asks for Current TV to be relieved of any continuing obligations to Olbermann, asks for unspecified damages “to be proved at trial” and seeks reimbursement for legal expenses.
A call to Olbermann’s manager was not immediately returned.
On Thursday, Olbermann had sued Current TV in the same court, claiming breach of contract, unfair dealing and disparagement.
Olbermann says he is owed $50 million to $70 million in cash and equity compensation, according to the suit, which seeks a jury trial. The lawsuit also seeks a judgment for other unspecified monetary damages, with interest.
“This action is necessary as Current has repeatedly and willfully breached its written agreement with Olbermann,” his lawsuit said, “often continuing to do so after receiving specific notices to cure such breaches.
“In its most recent breach, Current unilaterally, and without cause, terminated its agreement with Olbermann. Current’s sudden and public termination of Olbermann was the latest in a series of increasingly erratic and unprofessional actions undertaken by Current’s senior management,” the lawsuit said.
Olbermann’s suit called Gore, Hyatt and Current management “no more than dilettantes portraying entertainment industry executives.”
In a statement Thursday, Current said it fired Olbermann for “serial, material breaches of his contract, including the failure to show up at work, sabotaging the network and attacking Current and its executives.”
It continued, “It is well established that over his professional career Mr. Olbermann has specialized in pounding the table.
“However, Mr. Olbermann, by filing his false and malicious lawsuit, has now put this matter into a legal process where there will be an objective review of the facts.
“We hope Mr. Olbermann understands that when it comes to the legal process, he is actually required to show up.”
Gore and Hyatt courted Olbermann to leave his previous employer, MSNBC, with promises of “an unprecedented level of control and resources to build a new progressive network,” Olbermann’s lawsuit said.
Olbermann was given “full editorial control over ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ ” and the title of chief news officer, the suit said.
But the relationship soured shortly after Olbermann joined the network, according to the suit.
“Admitting that he and Gore ‘had expertise lacking in order to strategically execute the vision (they had) committed to’ Hyatt created an environment in which major business errors and technical failures became commonplace and acceptable,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Hyatt also attempted to isolate Olbermann from his professional representatives in an awkward attempt to form a close personal friendship with his new star,” the suit says.
When Olbermann didn’t reciprocate, Hyatt withheld production resources and disparaged Olbermann in the press, the lawsuit says.
CNN’s Michael Martinez contributed to this report