VNU averts trial with suit settlement

Billboard settles with editors claiming abuse

The company that publishes Billboard magazine, VNU, was spared an embarrassing courtroom showdown when two former staffers settled a discrimination lawsuit just as the case was set to go for trial.

Though particulars of the settlement were not disclosed, former Billboard editor in chief Keith Girard and former Billboard senior editor Samantha Chang agreed Tuesday to withdraw their $29 million lawsuit alleging sexual and racial discrimination against the music industry mag.

A VNU spokeswoman, Deborah Patton, would say only, “The matter has been resolved to all parties’ satisfaction.”

Several legal experts not affiliated with the case had predicted a Billboard loss if the case did go to trial, suggesting a monetary settlement was likely made. Settlement came as jury was being selected in New York Supreme Court.

The allegations had raised eyebrows among the Gotham media set. The filing claimed Girard and Chang were victims of “character assassination,” “sexual harassment,” and “physical and verbal intimidation.” It also said that a mag staffer had created a chart that broke down the newsroom by racial and ethnic background.

Settlement comes at a fortuitous time for the trade-media giant as the suit, filed almost two years ago, had created a cloud over VNU. The Dutch conglom, which also owns the Hollywood Reporter and Backstage, recently voted to sell itself to a consortium of private investors for about $9 billion, and a headline-grabbing public trial could have been dicey.

The suit was filed against the magazine and named Billboard publisher John Kilcullen and VNU Business Media chief operating officer Howard Lander, among others. Lander has since left the company. Kilcullen remains in his position at the magazine.

An attorney for Chang and Girard did not return calls Wednesday evening.

Both employees were let go in 2004. Girard had worked there for 13 months after a stint at InvestmentNews; he brought Chang to Billboard five months after he started.

In an incident noted in the filing, a human resources exec worried in an email about a potential lawsuit against the company after witnessing a so-called alliance between Chang, who is Asian-American, and Carla Hay, an African-American.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have said they used the incident it as an example of racial discrimination that exists at VNU

In a separate part of the complaint, plaintiff cited instances in which the prominent presence of a sex toy and general philandering were allegedly used to intimidate female employees. The two said rumors of an affair between the two made the rounds in the office and then the music industry.

And the parties cited the mag for journalistic malfeasance, with Girard saying that Kilcullen had offered specific editorial instructions on stories and also demanded final editorial control.

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