Giovanni Sues Jockeys' Guild

John Giovanni, former head of the Jockeys' Guild, filed a lawsuit Sept. 20 alleging that he was slandered by Guild officers and illegally forced out of his position in June.

"I feel badly enough about suing the Jockeys' Guild," Giovanni said. "This is a group I have been a member of for 40 years, but it is not the same organization."

Giovanni filed his suit in circuit court in Fayette County, Ky. The suit was filed against the Guild, California-based management consulting group Matrix Capital Associates, Matrix's founder and leader Dr. L. Wayne Gertmenian, and jockeys Chris McCarron, Robert Colton, Mike McCarthy, and Guild president Tomey Swan.

He is seeking the salary due him for the duration of his contract and punitive damages for slanderous comments allegedly made against him by the defendants.

The Jockeys' Guild, a nonprofit organization that functions as a union, has been in turmoil since June 15 when a teleconference of the Guild's executive committee resulted in a sudden change in management and a wholesale firing of the staff in the Lexington, Ky., headquarters. The decision to discharge Giovanni, six Lexington staff members, and six regional managers was supported by five of the committee's nine members. According to other members of the executive committee, McCarron led the effort to replace Giovanni and the staff with Matrix Capital Associates. McCarron has a close personal relationship with Gertmenian.

Efforts by The Blood-Horse to reach McCarron and Gertmenian for comment on Friday were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach Swan and Colton also were unsuccessful. Only McCarthy could be reached for comment.

"I don't really know if I want to comment on those allegations at this time," McCarthy said. "This is all news to me."

Jockey Dean Kutz was the fifth committee member to sign the resolution that authorized the change in management and staff, but he is not named in the suit.

Giovanni's lawsuit alleges several improprieties associated with the June 15 teleconference. The suit claims the meeting and the action taken by written consent were both illegal because they violated the Jockeys' Guild by-laws. The meeting was held without first providing mandatory written notice, and the consent order was signed by only five committee members when the by-laws require that any written consent must be signed by all committee members.

Defendants in the lawsuit conveyed during the meeting that Giovanni had already resigned, which he had not.

"I had announced earlier that when my term was up, I was not going to run for office," Giovanni said. "My term did not expire until 2002."

Giovanni also said the defendants urged other committee members to act promptly or they would be held personally liable for "the alleged mismanagement and malfeasance of Mr. Giovanni."

The mismanagement allegations stem from dismay over the cancellation of the Jockeys' Guild's health insurance earlier this year. The Guild's executive committee voted to let the coverage expire because it could not afford the premiums following a 43% increase.

"They said it was over the insurance but that was just the issue they chose to use," Giovanni said. "We had been scrapping and scratching to keep that going for years. They said I canceled the health insurance, but that was what the executive committee decided to do because we couldn't afford it."

The hike in premiums left the Guild with a $1.5 million shortfall. Giovanni said it is interesting that at the same time the Guild was searching for cash to maintain the health insurance policy, that all jockeys received a $5 increase in mounts fees. Jockeys in the United States collectively ride about 300,000 mounts annually. If that $5 increase had been applied to the health insurance, the Guild would not have been forced to cancel the policy, according to Giovanni.

"But that $5 didn't go toward the benefits, it just went into the jockeys' pockets," he said. "That was their decision."

As for the accusations of slander, Giovanni alleges that McCarron, Colton, and McCarthy made appearances at several racetracks before the June 15 meeting where they made "false, defamatory, and disparaging comments" and attacked "among other things, his integrity and honesty," according to the lawsuit. The suit also claims that Gertmenian on several occasions accused Giovanni unfairly of dealing "unethically with the finances of the Guild."

The defendants have about 20 days to file their responses to the lawsuit.