Ask any attorney who handles employment law: this is the dumbest thing the New York Times could have done. Even if its true, it’s a mistake to say it, because (a) it makes them look like they’re panicking and (b) the state of employment law in 2014 militates against both public and private belittling of one’s former employee. (It’s why references in employment have become kind of a joke.)
Piled on top of that is another question. Jill Abramson undoubtedly signed a severance agreement that includes a non-disparagement clause. She can’t say anything bad about the Times, and she can ‘t even say she signed such an agreement. It’ll be tied to her severance package. These have become commonplace. (If you think very hard, you’ll figure out how I know that.)
The question is: did her lawyer negotiate a reciprocal agreement? If so, the Times is in breach.
The Times also seems somehow involved in a less public version of this battle. This Fox story contains information about two other employees that almost had to come from a Times source close to Sulzberger’s office:
In the Times’ view, compensation questions are complicated. For instance, when Andy Rosenthal took over as the paper’s editorial page editor, he was initially paid less than his predecessor, Gail Collins. It was Sulzberger who appointed Collins as the first woman to hold that job.