A judge has allowed Dan Rather’s $70 million breach of contract lawsuit against CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. to go forward but has dismissed the portions that named three of the company’s executives.
Judicial Hearing Officer Ira Gammerman struck down the parts of the suit that named Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, CBS President Leslie Moonves and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward.
Rather sued CBS and his former bosses last September, claiming they removed him from his “CBS Evening News” anchor post and gave him lesser assignments after controversy over a report about President Bush’s Vietnam-era military service.
Rather, who was making $6 million a year at the time, complained that CBS banished him to pacify powerful business and political interests who were unhappy about the report.
In his ruling, Gammerman dismissed the claims against the individual defendants because, he said, they were acting within the scope of their employment.
The parts Gammerman left were the claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Rather claimed that CBS, besides honoring his contract, should have acted in his best interests because he was a longtime employee.
Rather’s lawsuit stemmed from CBS’s reaction after he narrated a “60 Minutes II” report in September 2004, two months before the election, which stated that Bush avoided military service in Vietnam by using his father’s connections to get into the Texas National Guard.
Once in the National Guard, the report said, Bush shirked and failed to complete his duties.
Rather was removed from his anchor post in March 2005, six months later.
A lawyer for all the defendants, James W. Quinn, said he was pleased with the ruling and characterized what remained of the lawsuit as a “garden variety contract dispute.”
Rather’s lawyer, Martin R. Gold, said the “essence” of the suit was still in place. He said Quinn’s statement that all that is left is a “garden variety contract dispute” is “simply inaccurate.”
Rather says in his lawsuit that the defendants’ actions — blaming him for a flawed report and then making him take the blame and apologize publicly — damaged his reputation and caused him significant financial loss.
Quinn said CBS bosses had “a right to use Mr. Rather as they saw fit as long as they paid him.”
The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan’s state Supreme Court, seeks $20 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
Viacom Inc. is CBS’s former parent company. The two communications giants separated Jan. 1, 2006.