Jim Spanfeller — the beleaguered boss of G/O Media, which owns The Onion and Deadspin — is being sued by two former executives who claim in separate lawsuits that he discriminated against female employees at the company.
In one lawsuit, Michael McAvoy, the former CEO of The Onion, says Spanfeller fired him for standing up for a “hard-working” female executive Spanfeller allegedly wanted to fire “because she lived in New York.”
In the other suit, Nadine Jarrad, a former G/O vice president in charge of West Coast sales, claimed Spanfeller demoted her and gave away half her sales territory to Steve Thompson, the CEO’s former colleague from Playboy.
Jarrad’s lawsuit likened the office under Spanfeller to an old boys’ club, saying Spanfeller boasted about first meeting Thompson while “hung over” in his bathrobe in a hotel room in the ‘90s, and then hiring him on the spot.
The lawsuits are just the latest scandal plaguing Spanfeller, who has been in the top job since April. He was named head of G/O media after private equity firm Great Hill Partners purchased a collection of former Gawker Media sites from Univision, including Gizmodo, Jezebel and Deadspin, and The Onion.
Over the summer, Deadspin, G/O’s sports and culture site, published its investigation into Spanfeller’s hiring practices, alleging he had been hiring “older white guys” from his past at Forbes and Playboy to run the company — complaints that were echoed in McAvoy and Jarrad’s lawsuits.
Adding to his woes, Spanfeller was recently faced with a staff revolt at Deadspin that resulted in all its writers walking off the job. The site, which writes primarily about sports, has not posted any stories since Nov. 4.
The revolt started when Spanfeller’s editorial director Paul Maidment, who worked with Spanfeller at Forbes, ordered Deadspin staffers to cover only sports, even though staffers claim some of their best trafficking items are tied to media or culture. Deadspin deputy editor Barry Petchesky was fired for bucking the edict, which led to more than two dozens writers and editors quitting en masse.
McAvoy’s Nov. 1 lawsuit, filed in Chicago state court, says he had notified G/O’s general counsel and chief financial officer to Spanfeller’s “unorthodox hiring practices and other employees’ complaints about such practices” before was canned. He also says he got into a dispute with Spanfeller for seeking to fire a female executive for living apart from the Chicago office, and then saying she could keep her job if she fired another female exec, which she refused to do.
“It was immediately evident that the ‘new regime’ was white men, cronies from Spanfeller’s past,” Jarrard’s said in her complaint, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles state court. “Spanfeller had no interest in mining the company of existing talent, particularly female, but rather to bring in his old cronies from his time at Playboy, Forbes or elsewhere.”
“As to Mr. McAvoy’s claims in particular, we anticipate filing a counterclaim and affirmative defenses that will illuminate the very substantial reasons justifying his termination for cause,” the spokesman said.