Former KCOY/KKFX chief meteorologist Jim Byrne sues company

By Samantha Yale Scroggin/Staff Writer/sscroggin@syvnews.com | Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2012 12:05 am

Former longtime KCOY/KKFX chief meteorologist Jim Byrne is suing his ex-employer for breach of contract after his termination at the beginning of the year.

Byrne alleges Cowles California Media Company, the parent company of Central Coast television stations KCOY and KKFX, violated state labor laws by not giving him his promised severance pay after he refused to sign a document stating he would not sue the company.

In a response filed June 6 by attorneys with the firm Dillingham and Murphy LLP, the company denied any wrongdoing and asked that the court dismiss Byrne’s case.

Cowles terminated Byrne’s employment in January along with 12 others at KCOY/KKFX as part of a cost-cutting measure that resulted in Santa Maria’s evening news being broadcast from Salinas.

Byrne was working on a four-year contract with the company through Oct. 4, 2012.

In the suit filed April 23 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Byrne is asking the company to pay him wages he claims he is due along with attorney fees and damages as the court sees fit.

The matter is due in Santa Maria court before Judge Timothy Staffel on Aug. 28 for a case management conference.

Byrne’s attorney in the suit, Randall Widmann, said Byrne’s contract was poorly written, and stated that Byrne would only earn wages up to his last day of employment with the company regardless of whether he was terminated with or without cause.

However, his contract provided that if he was terminated without cause, as he reportedly was, then he would be given 90 days base pay as severance, according to Widmann. Byrne and his attorney claim that Byrne was never given that payment.

Widmann said that making someone sign a document guaranteeing they will not sue before receiving severance pay is illegal.

“These guys simply don’t want to pay him for the balance of his contract,” the attorney added.

“It’s a lot of money to Jim,” Widmann said.

He said that to his knowledge, Byrne remains unemployed since he was let go from KCOY/KKFX, where he served as chief meteorologist for 12 years.

Widmann noted that Byrne passed up a television job in a bigger market in order to renew his most recent four-year contract.

In their response to the suit, Cowles’ attorneys list 18 reasons that the suit should be denied, including that Byrne failed to abide by the terms of his contract and that he failed to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit.

The attorneys could not be reached for comment last week.