Cablevision founder Charles Dolan and members of his family filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Altice USA, which bought Cablevision two years ago, alleging it has laid off News 12 employees in violation of the sale agreement.
The Dolan family said in the lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court that Altice has already cut 70 News 12 Network employees, plans to terminate a second group as early as this week and will cut “an additional 10 percent of the staff in each successive year” -- in violation of the agreement between the Dolans and Altice’s parent, Altice N.V. of the Netherlands.
The family is seeking an injunction to prevent further layoffs at News 12 and compel Altice USA to adhere to the sales agreement, which paved the way for Altice N.V. to purchase Cablevision Systems Corp. of Bethpage for $17.7 billion in 2016.
The News 12 subsidiary has won Emmys for its news coverage of Long Island, parts of New York City and its northern suburbs, western Connecticut and northern New Jersey.
The sale agreement was supposed “to maintain the quality of the local news content produced by News 12, and designed to protect News 12 employees and their salaries for an extended and fixed period of time,” the Dolans said in the suit.
Altice USA spokeswoman Lisa Anselmo said in a statement Tuesday: “This lawsuit is completely without merit and we will defend against it vigorously ... Altice USA remains committed to offering meaningful news coverage, enhancing our news product for our local communities, and growing our audience.”
The lawsuit says Altice agreed “to incur up to $60 million in losses to maintain News 12’s existing level of 462 employees” through at least December 2020.
Charles Dolan’s son Patrick Dolan, senior network adviser at News 12 and former News 12 president, said in an interview on Tuesday that the cable channels turned an operating profit last year and will report a higher profit this year. Newsday majority owner Patrick Dolan last month effectively acquired the remaining ownership stake in Newsday.
Patrick Dolan said Altice’s second round of News 12 layoffs would affect 15 to 20 employees, “the brunt of them on Long Island.”
He said, “A newsroom is more than its spreadsheet. It’s a public responsibility.”
In addition to Charles and Patrick Dolan, the lawsuit’s other plaintiffs are Charles’ wife, Helen, son, James, and News 12 anchor Colleen McVey. Altice executives have told McVey that she is among the employees to be laid off this month, Patrick Dolan said.
In a hiring announcement after the Dolans filed the lawsuit, Michael Schreiber, president of Altice USA News, which includes News 12, said the company “is committed to offering more integrated and meaningful news coverage, and our ratings and digital growth show that viewers are responding positively to our efforts.”
Schreiber announced the appointment of Chris Vaccaro as vice president of digital news and Kristin Malaspina as vice president of marketing and audience.