John Thew sues Aspen Film over “wrongful termination” |

John Thew sues Aspen Film over “wrongful termination”

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
John Thew
Courtesy Photo |

Former Aspen Film Executive Director John Thew filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming wrongful termination and said a board member “for personal reasons orchestrated his firing by ginning up fabricated and unsubstantiated tales,” according to district court documents.

Thew’s complaint against the nonprofit, from which he was terminated April 17, says those tales involved “‘improper behavior’ towards former employees such as ‘stomping his foot’ and making ‘frightening gestures.’”

Thew, who had a three-year contract with Aspen Film from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2018, contends he was not informed of any issues with his performance during his tenure.

Aspen Film never conducted or issued “any performance review raising any perceived deficiencies” with Thew’s role as executive director, the complaint states.

His contract states the nonprofit has to show cause to fire him and is defined as “dishonesty, theft, violence, moral turpitude or is charged with a felony criminal offense.”

“Mr. Thew did not engage in, nor has Aspen Film ever claimed, that he engaged in any of the forgoing acts warranting termination for cause,” according to the lawsuit.

The complaint says Thew’s “unlawful and wrongful termination without cause … has and will continue to cause him substantial economic losses.”

Thew, whose base salary was nearly $100,000, did not specify the amount of damages and compensation he is seeking in the lawsuit.

Thew declined to discuss the lawsuit when reached Thursday.

“Unfortunately, I am still unable to comment on the matter,” he wrote in a text message response. “I think the complaint says it all.”

The complaint also addresses Aspen Film’s high staff turnover — a point of contention among the organization in recent years.

“Despite Mr. Thew’s numerous achievements and contributions to the growth and success of Aspen Film, he was not able to stem the tide of staff turnover which has long plagued Aspen Film,” the complaint states. “Much of the staff turnover at Aspen Film both prior to and during Mr. Thew’s tenure is attributable to natural attrition and the transience of the local community and work force.”

In Thew’s first year, Aspen Film saw five employees and six board members leave the organization.

In a July interview with The Aspen Times, he credited the high volume of turnover to “the nonprofit scene in Aspen.”

“I wish I could say, ‘Oh gosh, it was all this one thing,’” Thew said then, and added “people move all over the place.”

More recently under Thew’s leadership, the only full-time staff members remaining left the organization last month after producing its annual Aspen Shortsfest. The two returned to Aspen Film two weeks ago as the organization’s only employees.

Last week, Aspen Film announced that real estate broker and film producer Elexa Ruth would serve as interim executive director.

Aspen Film board President Lee Rittvo and Thew’s attorney, Peter Thomas, did not respond to calls Thursday afternoon seeking comment.

Staff writer Andrew Travers contributed to this report.