By Scott Krol, New York
A six-panelist jury awarded $6.9 million in punitive damages and $126,511 in compensatory damages to CBS Radio f/k/a Infinity Radio in a dispute stemming from an action to enforce a non-compete clause against radio host Jennifer Ross, whose real name is Elena Whitby. According to published reports, CBS has spent approximately $4 million in attorney fees pursuing Ross since 2000. Ross’s attorney plans to appeal the verdict. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/sfl-flpross0509pnmay09,0,3372540.story
The dispute started in 2000, when after failed negotiations, Ross left “Sunny 104.3” WEAT, for rival WRMF 97.9 FM. Ross had worked for WEAT since 1995 under an agreement, as amended in 1999, which contained a non-compete clause prohibiting Ross from appearing on radio or television and for working for any competitor within 125 miles of WEAT, for 12 months after leaving WEAT. (See Elena Whitby v. Infinity Radio Inc., 951 So. 2d 890) In January 2000, Infinity send a letter to Ross stating its intent to exercise its option to renew the agreement for 5 years. The two sides were unable to negotiate a new agreement, and Ross started broadcasting for rival WRMF in September 25, 2000 at the expiration of the 1995 Agreement. Infinity sued Ross and Licensees, seeking injunctive relief, contract damages, tortious interference and punitive damages. In 2005, Infinity was awarded $17.2 million. That judgment was set aside on appeal. http://www.4dca.org/Jan2007/01-24-07/4D05-3888.op.pdf.
In 2008, the jury again found for Infinity and awarded $6.9 million in punitive damages and $126,511 in compensatory damages. According to the Sun-Sentinel, David Gorman, Ross’s attorney, plans to appeal the verdict saying that it would be a financial hardship for Ross who is being paid $200,000 a year at WRMF, to pay the $126,511 verdict plus interest plus attorney fees. Gorman contends that Ross was underpaid at WEAT, “she was paid $135,000 a year… If she’s that great, that’s all you’re going to pay her?” (See Missy Diaz, South Florida Sun-Sentinel , May 8, 2008, http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/sfl-flpross0509pnmay09,0,3372540.story) In light of nearly 8 years of litigation, $4 million in attorney fees and only $60,000 difference in salary, perhaps the sides should have been more diligent in their contract talks in 2000.
Currently Jennifer Ross is the morning co-host of “The Jennifer and Danny Show” on WRMF. CBS’s WEAT FM has “The Sunny Morning Show” with a similar format. For the record WEAT FM is ranked number 1 in the West Palm Beach Radio market, while WRMF is third.