Bates recounted a series of forced sexual acts he said he endured in 1983, when he was 11 and 12 years old, and a paperboy for the Democrat and Chronicle.
Now, he is suing the newspaper and its parent company, Gannett Co., under a new state law allowing individuals who allege they were sexually abused as children to seek civil damages. A lawyer for Bates said the lawsuit would be filed Tuesday.
The complaint, which was provided to CITY in advance of being filed in state Supreme Court, identifies the alleged perpetrator as Jack Lazeroff, a former employee of the Democrat and Chronicle’s circulation department. Lazeroff died in 2003 at the age of 74.
The claim is thought to be the first filed under the state’s Child Victims Act on behalf of a former paperboy, an all but extinct breed that recalls a bygone era, when newspaper companies relied on children, most of them boys, to deliver their product door-to-door.
“For decades, I was so used to not being able to do anything,” Bates said. “The guy was dead. I couldn’t wring his neck. I couldn’t sue. There was a statute of limitations.”
The lawsuit against Gannett was months in the making.
Bates wrote me in September 2018 when I was a columnist for the Democrat and Chronicle, and described in a gut-wrenching email how the abuse he allegedly endured haunted him still.
“He robbed me of the chance to be me. He made me something different. I hate that he had that power over me. And I hate that he still has that power over me. I truly hate myself for that,” Bates wrote.
The email went on: “I am 47 now and some shell of the man I could have been. You see, every time I get to the point of success and happiness in my life – for decades now – memories of Jack Lazeroff, and his work, come flooding back. And I destruct.”
Bates had copied an editor on the email, and a human resources officer at Gannett’s corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia, telephoned Bates in response.
Another Gannett executive, the chief operating officer of local markets, Michael Kane, followed up a few weeks later with a letter to Bates that commended him for his courage and expressed horror at his story.
The letter went on, though, to say that while there was no reason to doubt Bates’s sincerity, the company could not independently verify his claims or locate any complaints of a similar nature against Lazeroff, “despite diligent inquiry.”
“We were able to contact several people who worked at the paper during the time when the incidents you describe allegedly occurred, including circulation department managers,” the letter read. “However, none of these individuals recalls any complaints or allegations of the kind that you describe, either against Mr. Lazeroff, or any other person.”
The letter closed by saying the company was “deeply sympathetic” but that there was nothing more it could do.