by Laird Harrison

KNBR fired talk-show host Ralph Barbieri because he has Parkinson’s Disease, his attorney, Angela Alioto said in a news release that seems to threaten legal action.

“The termination is nothing less than Age Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Breach of Good Faith And Fair Dealing, and Breach of Contract,” Alioto wrote.

“The action by KNBR, Susquehanna Radio Corp., and Cumulus. Inc, sends the message loud and clear that if you are 66 years old and have a disability, ‘we don’t want you anymore.’ The message we will send, right back to them, loud and clear, is that this type of despicable illegal behavior will not be tolerated in the City and County of San Francisco.”

KNBR responded immediately, saying it fired Barbieri for breaking his contract.

Bill Bungeroth, vice president/market manager of Cumulus, San Francisco, which owns KNBR, said, “it is disappointing that Ralph’s lawyers have issued a press release filled with inaccurate statements and baseless accusations.

“The simple fact is that Ralph refused to honor some of the most basic terms of his contract. As a result, KNBR exercised its right to terminate the contract.”

Bungeroth also said that KNBR had offered Barbieri a contract “to continue his pay and benefits for the next six months.”

“It is completely implausible that the termination of Ralph’s contract had anything to do with his age or the fact he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” Bungeroth said.

In interviews with local newspapers, Barbieri acknowledged that KNBR had offered to pay him for six more months, but said the station wanted to be able to cancel the contract after one month.

Full press release from Barbieri attorney Angela Alioto:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA– For 28 tumultuous years, native San Franciscan, Ralph Barbieri, lent his passionate opinions and his unique edgy voice to the radio airways on KNBR 680. In doing so he achieved phenomenal success and near legendary status, recently being inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall Of Fame.

Barbieri was the first broadcaster in the Bay Area to successfully do a sports talk show during afternoon drive commute hour, thereby paving the way for KNBR to turn into a 24-hour sports talk station. Throughout his entire career, whether alone or paired with Tom Tolbert as The Razor and Mr. T, his shows were always at or near the top of the ratings. KNBR and Barbieri seemed like a perfect match.

This is the same Ralph Barbieri who was wrongfully terminated for an alleged “cause”, ie. “for being late”. The termination is nothing less than Age Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Breach of Good Faith And Fair Dealing, and Breach of Contract, inter alia. Barbieri is 66 years old and has a slow-developing form of Parkinson’s disease, which he spoke publicly about for the first time last October, 2011. As a result of this wrongful termination, Barbieri has lost his entire salary and all health benefits.

On Tuesday, April 10th, 2012, Barbieri was summoned into the Market Manager’s office and was told that he was terminated, effective “immediately”. He was stunned; after 28 years it was over in a flash. Then, he was escorted off the premises, like a common criminal.

Barbieri’s contract does not end until October 31st, 2012. Indeed, just two months ago, on February 1st, 2012, Barbieri was given a bonus for his stellar performance.

According to Barbieri’s attorney, Angela Alioto, “The action by KNBR , Susquehanna Radio Corp., and Cumulus. Inc, sends the message loud and clear that if you are 66 years old and have a disability, “we don’t want you anymore”. The message we will send, right back to them, loud and clear, is that this type of despicable illegal behavior will not be tolerated in the City and County of San Francisco.”

Full response from Cumulus:

“It is disappointing that Ralph’s lawyers have issued a press release filled with inaccurate statements and baseless accusations.

The simple fact is that Ralph refused to honor some of the most basic terms of his contract. As a result, KNBR exercised its right to terminate the contract.

Ralph does not disclose that KNBR offered him a contract to continue his pay and benefits for the next six months. His response to that offer was to make disparaging statements about KNBR in the press.

It is completely implausible that the termination of Ralph’s contract had anything to do with his age or the fact he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. KNBR renewed his contract this past fall with full knowledge of those circumstances. At that time, Ralph publicly recognized that the Company “didn’t view the Parkinson’s as a red flag.”

“That statement is true. It never has. ”

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor