Tonawanda News — A lawsuit filed in March by the now former executive director of the Riviera Theatre, Frank Cannata, indicated that he was terminated and offered a severance package that has not been paid, an allegation that counters claims made by the board president Joyce Santiago.
Cannata, through his attorney Harvey P. Sanders, filed a breach of contract lawsuit on March 4 in state Supreme Court, claiming the theater owes him $34,000 as part of a 24-week severance package, $5,700 for four weeks of vacation time and health insurance coverage for a period of five months. The vacation time has since been paid, Cannata said.
Santiago said this week that “if the board had wanted to you could be hearing that he was fired,” while also denying accusations that it had asked Cannata to resign. Without elaborating, she said the suit did not make sense.
Cannata tendered his resignation on Feb. 1, after taking a nearly three-month leave of absence that began in early November. Several board members also resigned from their posts soon after his exit. Cannata said he could not comment about the nature of his departure during legal proceedings, adding that both he and the theater board signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the severance package.
Sanders, Cannata’s attorney, would not comment directly as to whether his client was requested to resign, only stating “that’s the way most of these types of agreements typically work,” in reference to the alleged severance agreement. However, according to a court deposition obtained by the Tonawanda News on Friday, Cannata had been terminated.
Cannata, first hired in 2006, is credited with making the theater profitable after years of dysfunction and breathing new life into the ailing Webster Street. In 2011 he was selected as “Citizen of the Year” by the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas, which is led by Santiago.
Despite Cannata’s departure from the theater, which is often viewed as the face of North Tonawanda, his absence was not made public until this week. Santiago said the board will conduct a national search for Cannata’s replacement.
Sanders said he is hopeful that the lawsuit can be settled outside of a courtroom.
“It could be a while before a trial, if there is a trial,” he said.