After more than a year of litigation, attorneys for Barnes & Noble and former CEO Demos Parneros say they are finally ready to talk about settling a lawsuit arising from the CEO's sudden dismissal on July 3, 2018.
In a December 18 letter, lawyers for B&N informed the court that the parties were "prepared to proceed with a settlement conference,” which has now been scheduled for January 27 before magistrate judge Gabriel Gorenstein. Under a scheduling order issued by Gorenstein, attorneys for Parneros are due to make a settlement demand to B&N “no later than 14 days prior to the conference,” with B&N attorneys to reply a week later.
News of the scheduled settlement conference comes after B&N attorneys on November 22 moved for summary judgment on two of the three claims filed against the retailer by Parneros—defamation, and breach of the covenant of good faith. Previous filings suggest that Parneros is seeking approximately $70 million in damages for the defamation claim alone, as well as approximately $6.4 million for a third claim, for breach of contract.
The settlement talks come at the urging of presiding judge John G. Koeltl, who had referred the parties to Gorenstein last spring, with an initial settlement conference scheduled for April 29, 2019. But just a week after the initial conference was set, the parties asked for an adjournment to allow for more time to gather information and depositions—a process that proved to be contentious, and time-consuming.
At a November 4 pre-motion conference, Koeltl again urged the parties to talk settlement, warning B&N attorneys that their bid for summary judgment was a “risky” move. "Both sides will never be in as good a position as they are right now to resolve the case," Koeltl told the parties at the November 4 conference.
In his initial lawsuit, filed August 28, 2018, Parneros alleges that B&N founder Len Riggio, upset with Parneros over the collapse of a potential deal to sell the company, engineered the CEO's firing on false pretenses, withholding severance and other payments due.
In response, B&N attorneys countered that Parneros intentionally sabotaged a potential deal for the company, and that his firing was due to numerous violations of company policies, including a single allegation of sexual harassment, and an allegation of bullying fellow executives. B&N is also countersuing Parneros, seeking to claw back some of Parneros’s compensation.
While the two parties gear up for the long-awaited settlement conference, attorneys for Parneros are also due to file a reply to B&N’s motion for summary judgement, which is due by January 15, 2020.