•        1999-08-17
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Western Initiative Media Says It Fired Exec
August 17, 1999|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

http://articles.latimes.com/1999/aug/17/business/fi-884  (洛杉矶时报)

Western Initiative Media Worldwide Inc. on Monday said it had terminated Michael E. Kassan, president of U.S. operations, and transferred his duties to an executive in New York. The announcement came just days after Kassan sued the media buying company for $63.5 million in legal proceedings alleging breach of contract and defamation of character.

Kassan, who had been on a leave of absence since late July, wasn't available to comment on the firing and legal actions. But a spokesman for him said that, as of Monday afternoon, Kassan hadn't been informed of the termination. Western Initiative Vice President and General Counsel Nicholas J. Camera said in a prepared statement that "because the matter is currently in litigation, the company will have no further comment on Mr. Kassan's termination."

Kassan's allegations of breach of contract and defamation of character were included in a pair of legal proceedings initiated late last week. Kassan filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York seeking $13.5 million in damages. Kassan also filed a notice of intent to arbitrate before the American Arbitration Assn. in Los Angeles, seeking $50 million in damages. A spokesman said Kassan's contract with Western Initiative required the arbitration filing.

Kassan's legal actions allege that Western Initiative and its New York-based parent, Interpublic Group of Cos., are "orchestrating a scheme to ruin Kassan's reputation in the media industry." The legal actions also allege that Interpublic was trying to force Kassan to resign in order to nullify Kassan's existing employment contract and a new contract scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1.

Kassan, through a spokesman, said he agreed to sign a new, five-year employment contract earlier this year after receiving a sworn affidavit from Camera that praised Kassan for his "trustworthiness, honesty and integrity." Kassan, the spokesman said, negotiated the contract at Interpublic's behest.

In his lawsuit and arbitration papers, Kassan maintains that he recently was forced to leave his Los Angeles office and "not communicate with Western's clients and employees." Kassan's arbitration and lawsuit allege that the company was "conducting an 'audit' to search (in vain) for wrongdoing on behalf of Kassan, rifling through his personal files, removing Kassan's support staff . . . and telling people who called–including his bankers and family members–that Kassan did not work at the company anymore."

Speculation has been swirling in the advertising industry about Kassan's fate. Interpublic and Western Initiative executives have declined to comment on a report that Interpublic was reviewing Western Initiative's financial records.

Media reports also surfaced on a criminal conviction in 1995 that resulted in Kassan being suspended from practicing law in California. State bar records show that Kassan's conviction for grand theft by embezzlement before joining Western Initiative later was reduced to a misdemeanor and expunged from his record. Bar records also indicate that Kassan will be reinstated to the bar in September, pending results of an exam schedule for this month.

When word of the 30-day leave surfaced, some advertising industry observers speculated that Kassan was being forced out to make room for New York-based executive Michael Letito, who joined Western in June as the firm's chief operating officer. On Monday, Western Initiative said that Letito had been given Kassan's title and is now reporting to Western Initiative founder and Chairman Dennis Holt.

Holt brought Kassan on board at Western Initiative in 1994 to help broker the sale of Western Initiative, which then was an independent company known as Western International Media. Holt sold the firm to Interpublic in 1996 and remained with the firm as chairman of its U.S operations. Interpublic subsequently merged Western International with Initiative Media Worldwide of Paris, creating Western Initiative, with worldwide billings of $10 billion.

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