Ralph Barbieri firing becomes noisy battle with station, including threatened lawsuit 

The back-and-forth talk about a fired radio host is heating up, with both sides pointing fingers.

Sports talk-radio host Ralph Barbieri has lined up a team of lawyers and is preparing to sue his longtime employer, KNBR (680 AM), which abruptly fired the veteran drive-time personality last week.

Barbieri, who has been on air in San Francisco for 28 years, was reportedly fired April 10, leading to an emotional segment from his former on-air partner Tom Tolbert the next afternoon.

“They didn’t give him the courtesy of even saying goodbye to his fans or even to his partner,” said Barbieri attorney Angela Alioto.

While station managers reportedly told Barbieri he was being fired for tardiness, Alioto said that the termination was motivated by age and disability discrimination, because Barbieri, 66, suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Though the condition is apparently slow-developing, Alioto said he takes dozens of pills a day to control it.

“They told him he’s not peppy and energetic,” she said. “He goes to work every day, it’s just that he’s not as perky as he used to be.”

Barbieri revealed in October that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2005 but had continued to work without telling his employers about it.

KNBR responded to questions about Barbieri’s termination with a statement from Bill Bungeroth, vice president and market manager for Cumulus Media, which owns the station.

“It is disappointing that Ralph’s lawyers have issued a press release filled with inaccurate statements and baseless accusations,” Bungeroth said. “The simple fact is that Ralph refused to honor some of the most basic terms of his contract.”

Bungeroth said that Barbieri was offered a new contract that would continue his pay and benefits for six months, but that he walked away instead.

“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.

Bungeroth noted that the station had renewed its contract with Barbieri in November, after his diagnosis was made public.

But Alioto said that contract was only for one year, whereas previous contracts were for four. Barbieri’s nearly $400,000 salary was also cut by 25 percent.

Barbieri turned down the six-month contract offered last week because it would not have allowed him to work and would have let the station fire him without cause any time after May 1, she said.

Alioto said Barbieri’s legal team was prepared to file a lawsuit in 10 days.

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

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Amy Crawford

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Thursday, Aug 27, 2015

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