In a short reply filing, lawyers for Barnes & Noble this week pressed their bid for summary judgment on the two most serious claims filed against the company by fired CEO Demos Parneros, arguing that Parneros’s defamation claim against the retailer should be knocked out for one "overarching" reason—that B&N’s “purportedly defamatory statements” are in fact “entirely true.”
The latest filing comes after attorneys for Parneros last month filed an opposition brief arguing that the former CEO’s surprise dismissal in 2018 was engineered on false pretenses by an angry Len Riggio, and that a vaguely-worded B&N press release announcing the firing implied sexual misconduct, “lumping Parneros with the Harvey Weinsteins of the world,” and making the longtime executive virtually unemployable.
But B&N attorneys this week insisted once again that the press release in question, which stated Parneros was fired for "violations of company policy" not due to “financial reporting, policies, or practices or any potential fraud relating thereto," was indisputably true.
“Parneros may disagree with the employment decisions expressed in the B&N Press Release,” the filing notes, but the company's July 3, 2018 press release “accurately states what happened as a matter of corporate action,” B&N attorneys argue, adding that the court should disregard Parneros's argument about “how the press release may have been interpreted ‘in the context of the Me Too movement,’" and focus on “the literal truth” of the press release.
As to Parneros’s second claim—that B&N exercised bad faith in firing him just days before a $3.6 million equity award was scheduled to vest—B&N attorneys stress that the claim has no basis in the former CEO’s employment contract. Further, because the equity claim can be pursued as part of Parneros’s breach of contract claim, the breach of the covenant of good faith claim is duplicative, and should be tossed.
If Parneros's defamation and good faith claims are ultimately defeated in this summary judgment motion, it would leave only the breach of contract claim for trial, for which, previous filings state, the former CEO is seeking approximately $6.4 million. By contrast, filings suggest Parneros is seeking “approximately $70 million” in damages for the defamation claim alone.
Barnes & Noble is also countersuing Parneros, alleging disloyal behavior. If successful in its countersuit, B&N could potentially claw back some of the CEO’s compensation.
With this latest filing B&N’s motion for summary judgment is now briefed. It is unclear, however, how swiftly thingss will proceed as the presiding judge in the case, John G. Koeltl, has been reassigned. As of February 6, Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil is now listed as the presiding judge.
In addition, the parties engaged in a settlement conference before magistrate judge Gabriel Gorenstein, on January 27 in New York.