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Worcester lawsuit delays sale of Boston Globe

A Worcester Superior Court judge has delayed the sale of The Boston Globe because of a long-running dispute between the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and its independent newspaper carriers.

Judge Shannon Frison issued a temporary restraining order Friday that has held up The New York Times Co.’s planned sale of the Globe, the Worcester T&G, and related businesses to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry.

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Frison issued the order at the request of the newspaper delivery group’s lawyers, who feared the sale would derail their effort to obtain a settlement of up to $60 million from the T&G and its parent.

The judge wrote that “the plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims’’ and that the Times Co. would have to take responsibility for any liability from the litigation.

For the sale to move forward, she said, the Times Co. must either become a defendant in the case or pledge to set aside money “to satisfy a judgment at the maximal end of its foreseeable range — at least $60 million.’’

The price Henry agreed to pay for the entire New England Media Group, including the Globe, was $70 million. He was selected from a group of bidders to buy the business in August.

On Monday, a lawyer for the Times Co. asked the judge to lift the order, in exchange for the Times Co.’s setting aside funds for a possible future settlement. He argued that the plaintiffs should have access to the T&G’s assets, but not those of the Times Co. or the Globe, the T&G reported.

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“We’re awaiting the judge’s ruling,’’ Abbe Serphos, a spokeswoman for the Times Co., said Tuesday.

Frison was expected to issue a decision Wednesday, people involved in the matter said.

The case is a class-action lawsuit brought in 2009 alleging newspaper carriers were improperly classified as contractors instead of T&G employees. James Galliher, a Fitchburg attorney representing more than 1,000 former carriers, said they are due at least $10 million to $14 million in compensation. If the former carriers win the case, they could be awarded treble damages, plus interest.

Now the lawsuit, which has worked its way through the courts for years, has emerged as a roadblock to the Times Co. selling its New England newspapers. Galliher has requested information from the Times Co. about the valuation of the Worcester newspaper as part of the sale, specifics that continue to be closely guarded by the company.

“The injunction order itself suggests a way out, which is for the Times to enter itself as a defendant and a guarantor,’’ Galliher said. “The other alternative is to put nearly all of the proceeds from the sale into escrow.’’

Material from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette is included in this report. Beth Healy can be reached at Beth.Healy@globe.com,

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