A prominent New Zealand academic and media critic has been named in a $39 million lawsuit brought by a disgruntled ex-employee in the United States.

Canterbury University's associate professor of philosophy, Denis Dutton, was included in a suit brought by former employee Nancy Strickland relating to the sale of the



Professor Dutton founded the award-winning site in 1998 and employed Ms Strickland as executive editor in 1999.

She worked for the site for six months, but claims she was a partner and is owed a share of the profit from the sale of the site and associated compensation totalling US$16.5 million.

Professor Dutton sold the site, which was named in 1999 by Britain's Observer newspaper as the "Best Website in the World", to New York publishing company Academic Partners.

The suit alleges Professor Dutton conspired with Academic Partners to deny Ms Strickland her rightful share of the proceeds of the sale of the site, which she claims sold for more than $US1 million.

Professor Dutton told the Herald that Ms Strickland's claims were unfounded, and her estimate of the sale price of the site was an exaggeration.

His lawyer would respond to the suit within the next month.

"It's sad that the matter has come to the court," he said.

"The United States, as we all know, is a highly litigious society, where it's open to anyone to say what they like in a legal claim no matter how unfounded."

He said Ms Strickland was well compensated for the work she did.

"The site returned substantially less than her suit indicates. She was certainly paid for the work she did on the site."

Professor Dutton was born and educated in the US, and came to New Zealand in 1984.

He has raised the hackles of the media establishment on more than one occasion.

He founded the Bad Writing Award in 1996, for examples of what he considered shoddy prose.

But he discontinued the award in 1999, after a recipient, Berkeley professor Judith Butler, defended herself and criticised Professor Dutton in a New York Times opinion piece.

In 1996, he was appointed by the Government as a director of Radio New Zealand, and is now its longest-serving director.

He is known for his vocal support of public radio in New Zealand, and was co-founder of the Friends of National Radio.

Professor Dutton is also one of the founders of the New Zealand Skeptics, a non-profit organisation known for its vigorous public opposition to claims made by self-styled psychics and clairvoyants, sellers of fringe medicine, and promoters of pseudosciences.

In 1999, he was awarded the Royal Society Science and Technology Medal in 1999, for services on behalf of science.