FORMER ANCHOR WINS COURT ROUND AGAINST WTEN

MELISSA GRACE Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B4

Date: Wednesday, July 8, 1998

Former WTEN (Channel 10) weekend anchor Sue Nigra has won a legal battle that will allow her to take a job with a competing station in the region. A state judge Tuesday released Nigra from a ``non-compete'' clause in a contract which barred her from accepting a position at another local television station for one year.


State Supreme Court Judge Harold J. Hughes ruled that Young Broadcasting of Albany, Inc., the parent company of Channel 10, could not enforce the clause.


``Once the term of an employment agreement has expired, the general public policy favoring robust and uninhibited competition should not give way merely because an employer wishes to insulate itself from competition from a former employee,'' Hughes wrote, adding such a clause is ``not favored by the law.''


Nigra, 30, filed a lawsuit June 15 seeking court relief. She quit her job as a weekend anchor and medical reporter at the station in late May and said in court papers she had a job offer from a competing station -- one which she could not accept because of the clause.


Nigra declined comment, and her attorney, Richard A. Kohn, would not say which local station had offered the job. Managers at the Capital Region's three other news broadcasting stations said they had not offered her a post.


Robert M. Peterson, vice president and general manager at WTEN, said the company is considering an appeal. ``We gave Sue a terrific opportunity and developed her skills as an on-air broadcaster,'' he said. ``It's disappointing that she took the free agency route, took the training and used it against us.''


Nigra's lawsuit alleges that WTEN hires young, eager reporters and then uses the clause to keep them in low-paying jobs. She states she earned $31,500 at Channel 10 last year and was offered a job at twice that salary. Further, she said the station never seriously promoted her as an on-air personality.


If it stands, the ruling would affect the industry widely because most stations use non-compete clauses, Peterson said.


Kohn agreed. ``It's a very significant case,'' he said. Indeed, Nigra's case is the first time a New York state judge has knocked down the restrictive clause as it's applied to radio, television and other media personalities, he said.


Non-compete clauses are used and upheld by courts to prevent employees from leaving a job with trade secrets or clients, and where the workers' services are unique, court papers show.