By Ken Stone
On Sunday, June 4, Tracy Sundlun will watch his baby, Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon San Diego, turn 20.
But for the first time, he won’t be part of the company running the crown jewel of an international business behemoth.
Competitor Group Inc. laid off “Mr. Marathon” Sundlun from his $200,000-a-year job last July.
“But I just wish [the event] as well as possible,” he said by phone Wednesday from Miami, en route to an international youth track meet he helped organize in Cuba. “Look, you want success” for one’s creation.
He also looks for fairness from his longtime employer, known as CGI.
According to letters and other documents provided by Sundlun, CGI owes him well over $160,000. He’s yet to be paid his promised 38 weeks’ severance or reimbursed for all his business expenses. He’s also owed $2,000 monthly COBRA insurance payments, he says.
Many of his personal office files and mementos have yet to be returned, he says, including private correspondence with his daughter and files related to his friendship with Wilt Chamberlain.
CGI contends that Sundlun violated his separation agreement by making “disparaging” statements about the company in a Nov. 15 Times of San Diego story about his firing.
But Sundlun says: “They reneged within days of the agreement being made” in late October. “They reneged before the [Times] article was out. We didn’t disparage. We didn’t disclose any trade secrets.”On April 6, downtown San Diego lawyer Edward Chapin wrote to Competitor Group: “This failure by CGI to pay Mr. Sundlun the money that he was owed following the end of his employment at the Company is a material breach of the agreement that it had signed.”
In his letter to CGI counsel Michelle Ross, Chapin concluded: “Please let me know by close of business on Friday, April 14, 2017, if the Company would like to settle this matter privately and avoid the cost and expense of litigation.”
CGI never responded, Sundlun says. On May 12, he filed a complaint against CGI (led by president Josh Furlow) with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This paves the way for a possible lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court.
In a redacted letter sent to CGI’s Ross on Nov. 28, someone writing on behalf of Sundlun said: “CGI has been unable to point to anything disparaging Mr. Sundlun said to the Times of San Diego. That is unsurprising because he said nothing disparaging.
“Indeed, Mr. Sundlun held back on answering many questions that would cast CGI in negative light and he went to great strides to honor the nondisparagement clause. … Everything Mr. Sundlun said to the Times is accurate and factual.”
Times of San Diego reached out to several people at CGI via email, text message and voice mail, but received no response to a request for comments. (CGI never responded to queries for the original story.)
Friends of Sundlun weren’t shy about speaking out, however.
Bob Babbitt, who co-founded Competitor Magazine at CGI before leaving to be CEO of Babbitt Media Group, said he saw no disparagement in the Times story.
“In terms of Tracy’s personal items, this is the first I am hearing that CGI held on to those,” Babbitt said via email. “What reason did they give on that?”
Longtime running journalist Amby Burfoot said he saw Sundlun “very briefly” at last month’s Boston Marathon.
“Yes, I believe he mentioned the severance problem,” Burfoot said. “We didn’t get into any details at all. He didn’t say anything disparaging about CGI.”
Burfoot said Sundlun deserves his severance and personal items left in his private office at CGI’s former Waples Street headquarters. (The company moved this spring to a nearby office close to Qualcomm in Sorrento Valley.)
“To me, these aren’t matters of corporate contracts, but simple human and employee decency,” Burfoot said.
And San Diego-based running writer/broadcaster Toni Reavis said he’s seen Sundlun several times socially since his departure from CGI, but had not discussed it with him.
“And it would seem to me that if he wanted to disparage the company, someone like me would be a ready ear,” Reavis said. “But he never broached the subject, other than the fact that it happened.”
Reavis said he had no idea about Sundlun being denied his severance or not getting his personal items.
“Doesn’t sound like someone grinding the ax on every wheel,” Reavis said.
“I re-read your article, and thought Tracy took a positive stance at every turn. He’s always been that kind of guy. From my reading, he saluted CGI people, and didn’t disparage anyone. He had a difference of opinion regarding the elite athlete program, yes, but nothing more, certainly no vitriol or recrimination.”
Reavis doubts the severance dispute will cloud what now is called the Synchrony Financial Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon, which Tim Murphy of Elite Racing created with Sundlun’s help.
“Will this story bleed over into the 20th anniversary? I don’t believe it will,” Reavis said. “Only people who know Tracy will pay any attention. The average runner doesn’t care about this kind of inside baseball.”
Burfoot said: “None of us live in a rose garden or have pixie dust in our eyes. Whether we work for CGI or Runner’s World or anywhere else, we can see the world changing. Events change, media changes. It’s rocky road out there right now.
“But Tracy didn’t throw rocks in the road any more than I did [at Runner’s World]. As I like to say, Shift happens.”
Sundlun reiterated his support for the company where he’d been senior vice president, noting he has “skin in the game.”
“I have nothing but best wishes for CGI,” he said. “My God, I have $400,000 invested — rolled over from the last sale.”
He also wishes the best for former colleagues like Olympian and Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, who remains a CGI representative.
In fact, Sundlun says he told Keflezighi after his layoff: “Forget me. Don’t do something stupid for friendship.” He called CGI a “great platform for Meb.”
Sundlun also wants people to know he’s doing OK despite not having landed a job in his nine months since being laid off days before heading to Rio de Janeiro as a U.S. Olympic track team manager.
“I’ve been as busy as humanly possible to be,” says Sundlun, who turns 65 a few days after the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. “Helping all sorts of people. I don’t know where that next place is. But Lord knows I’m busy — from 8 in the morning till 9 at night.”
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