[em]Times[/em] in Settlement Talks Over Sachs

The New York Times is in settlement talks with the Newspaper Guild over the case of Susan Sachs, the Times correspondent fired by the the paper this past April, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.

Sachs, a former Baghdad bureau chief, and the Guild had been scheduled to challenge her termination at arbitration proceedings beginning today. Those proceedings have been put off in favor of settlement discussions.

Sachs’ dismissal was accompanied by accusations she had sent anonymous e-mails and/or letters to the wives of Times reporters Dexter Filkins and John Burns, alerting them to alleged marital infidelity in the war zone.

Denouncing co-workers for philandering may be an uncollegial move, but it’s not necessarily a firable offense. In August, the Guild described Sachs’ case as “strictly one of credibility. The Times has accused her of doing something she insists she didn’t do.”

The Guild also said that the Times did not pay Sachs any severance, and that company officials said “she was being dishonest with them when they questioned her about the incident in question, an accusation she denies.”

Under the Times‘ contract with the Guild, a source familiar with the terms explained, any type of dishonesty–lying, stealing, etc.–can be cause for termination.

But when she was dismissed, Sachs publicly disputed the charges and said she had taken a polygraph test and passed. Last month, Sachs traveled to New York from Paris, where she now lives, and took a second polygraph test, which she also passed, according to a source familiar with her case.

The Times is also facing an arbitration session on Nov. 15, that of former Times photographer Nancy Siesel, who was fired in March 2005 for performance reasons. Both Siesel and Sachs are being represented, along with the Guild, by Barry Peek, an labor lawyer with Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein. Mr. Peek declined to comment on Sachs’ case.

In an e-mail from Paris, Sachs wrote that charges brought against her by “some people at the New York Times” were “totally false.”

Sachs joined the Times in 1998 from Newsday, where she had been both a Moscow and Middle East correspondent. She became the Times‘ Baghdad bureau chief in September 2003. After a troubled five-month tenure there–during which press reports had her in a turf war with both Burns and Filkins–she returned to New York, then became the Istanbul bureau chief in March 2004. She remained in that post till her firing.

More recently, she has lived in Paris, freelancing for the Globe and Mail. Her husband, Claude Lorieux, who covered the Middle East for Le Figaro, died in April, and she has been working to complete a book on the Arab world he had been writing. In the spring, she plans to start teaching at the journalism school at Sciences Po in Paris.

It remains unclear what, exactly, happened in the centrifuge that was the Times‘ Baghdad bureau during Sachs’ tumultuous time there.

An acquaintance of Sachs said that some people who know her felt that the missives that led to her downfall may have been a setup by someone who wished her ill. Asked whether that reflected her own feelings on the matter, Sachs said, via e-mail from Paris, “No, it’s not.”

In another e-mail, Sachs wrote. “I hope you understand that I certainly enjoyed my job at the Times. The Istanbul bureau, where I was last, was my dream job, one I wanted for many years.”

–Sheelah Kolhatkar