Aspen Daily News countersues ex-photographer over hard-drive

Paper files response in federal lawsuit alleging unemployment scheme

Attorneys for the Aspen Daily News in a recent court filing said the publication fairly compensated a photographer who it also accused of stealing company property.

The newspaper on Dec. 29 issued its formal response to ex-photographer Craig Turpin’s federal lawsuit accusing Daily News management of telling employees to collect unemployment while still working. As well, the media outlet filed counterclaims against Turpin saying he committed civil theft by not returning a company-owned hard drive with photos belonging to the Daily News.

Turpin filed the complaint Oct. 12 alleging the newspaper’s leadership — under David Cook and Spencer McKnight — rolled out the plan March 26 during the pandemic’s early stages.

In last week’s response to the complaint, Daily News attorney Jason C. Astle of the Denver firm Springer & Steinberg countered that the newspaper committed no wrongdoing and said Turpin’s suit misrepresented statements Cook made at the March 26 meeting.

The suit alleged Cook, the publication’s managing director-publisher, presented the plan to employees as “certainly not illegal” and said “the chances of anyone getting audited (were) pretty low” because of the high volume of unemployment claims at the time.

“The question was raised, and Cook believed it was not illegal,” the response said.

Turpin quit his job as chief photographer May 11, in large part because he was not amenable to the plan, his suit said. He started there March 1, 2017.

His suit also claimed he wasn’t paid overtime wages, an allegation the Daily News’ response said did not apply because of the “fluctuating workweek provision.“ Turpin also was a salaried employee who didn’t report the extra hours for extra pay, said the response, adding the paper was simply “following industry practice” when it came to compensating its photographer.

Turpin declined comment Monday but his attorney, Adam Harrison of the Denver firm Sawaya & Miller, said “there’s no truth” to the Daily News’ defense and counterclaims.

“It’s an act of a desperate company that broke the law,” Harrison said.

Turpin’s suit’s claims are that the Daily News violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Colorado Wage Act, the Colorado Minimum Wages of Workers Act, Colorado minimum wage orders and Colorado overtime and minimum pay standards order. The U.S. District Court of Denver is the venue for the case.

“It’s a violation of the statutes that say ’don’t force others to file false claims,’” Harrison said.

The Daily News’ counterclaims against Turpin are conversion and civil theft. The hard-drive has an estimated value of more than $800.

“ADN states that Turpin has 
not returned a hard drive that is and contains ADN’s property, despite a demand for its return,” the counterclaim said.