Image: W Magazine

One day after publicly getting the boot from W Magazine, Stefano Tonchi is headed to court. The magazine’s former editor-in-chief, who had been at the helm of the fashion publication for almost a decade, has initiated a $1 million-plus lawsuit against W Magazine’s former owner Advance Publications in a New York state court, claiming that the publishing giant is failing to make good on more than $1 million in benefits laid out in his employment contract and in a separate agreement, thereby, running afoul of contract law.

Mr. Tonchi, 59, who has held the title of W Magazine’s editor-in-chief since 2010, claims that “on June 25, 2019, at approximately 8:05 a.m. … [he was informed] that his employment as editor-in-chief of W Magazine was terminated ‘for cause,’ effective immediately.” At this same meeting, Tonchi claims that reps for Advance Publications – the New York-based media conglomerate that owns Conde Nast, and its stable of magazines like Vogue, Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker, among others – revealed to him that “they would not pay [him] any of the monies to which he is contractually entitled.”

This includes but is not limited to his “current annual salary, [which] is in excess of $800,000,” severance benefits “in an amount far greater than $500,000,” and the $130,000 “closing bonus” that defendants had agreed to pay him if he stayed on board while they searched a buyer for the magazine and ultimately closed the deal.

An hour later, at 9 a.m., Advance publicly “announced that W Magazine had been sold to a third party,” Future Media Group, for an undisclosed sum, and that Tonchi was being replaced by Sara Moonves, W’s longstanding fashion director (and daughter of disgraced former CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves).

The problem, according to Tonchi, is that his employment contract stated that unless he was terminated for “cause” – i.e., if he “convicted a felony, abused [his position], intentionally failed to perform material duties for which [he was] responsible, and/or violated of any material term of [his employment] agreement” – he would be entitled to a payment to his base salary plus benefits in the event of an “involuntary termination.”

In the case at hand, Tonchi states that while the defendants informed him that he firing was “for cause,” he has “not engaged in any conduct that constitutes ‘cause’” in accordance with his employment agreement, or otherwise. With that in mind, he asserts that the “defendants have unlawfully and improperly tried to invoke ‘cause,’ absent any supporting facts, to avoid paying [him] the severance benefits and closing bonus amounts he is owed.”

As such, Tonchi claims that Advance’s “willful, knowing and unjustifiable refusal to pay [him] the severance benefits to which he is entitled under the employment agreement constitutes a breach of contract.” The company’s failure to pay him the agreed upon closing bonus is a further “breach of contract and, [similarly, one that] was undertaken in bad faith.”  He is seeking upwards of $1 million in damages, and any “other and further relief as to the Court is fair, equitable and just.”

*The case is Stefano Tonchi v. Advance Publications, 653720/2019 (N.Y. Sup).