Judge dismisses discrimination case against Washington Post

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A judge in Washington, DC, on Thursday dismissed a discrimination complaint against The Washington Post filed by a reporter with the newspaper.

The journalist, Felicia Sonmez, accused the newspaper in July of discriminating against her by banning her from reporting stories related to sexual assaults after she publicly identified herself as an assault victim.

The lawsuit named The Post as a defendant, along with its former editor Martin Baron and five other editors.

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Anthony C. Epstein dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the charges cannot be refiled. He said in his decision that Ms Sonmez had not made “a plausible claim that The Post took adverse employment action or created a hostile work environment, because of her gender or victim status. of sexual assault”.

Ms Sonmez’s lawyer, Sundeep Hora, said they planned to appeal the decision. “We are disappointed with the decision, and we strongly disagree with the decision,” he said.

Mr Baron said in an email on Thursday: ‘I am grateful for a legal process that allowed the claims in this lawsuit to be objectively assessed.

A spokeswoman for The Post declined to comment.

Ms. Sonmez joined The Post in 2018 as a national political reporter. She said a few months later her editors banned her from covering sexual misconduct allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh after Ms. Sonmez released a statement that she had been sexually assaulted by another journalist. (The reporter denied the allegation.)

About a year later, Ms Sonmez said, she was banned for the second time from covering stories of sexual assault after speaking publicly about her assault again, this time to demand a correction to a magazine article. Reason dealing with the allegations against the man she accuses.

This ban on Ms. Sonmez’s coverage was only lifted after she publicly pleaded with her editors to do so, she said in her lawsuit. Being denied the chance to cover newsworthy stories and having to explain the ban to her editors hurt her career, she said, and caused her economic loss and mental and emotional distress. .

Judge Epstein noted in his ruling that Ms Sonmez kept her job after her public statements and did not say she was given “second rate stories”. during the two coverage bans.

“His only complaint about his postings during the bans is that they didn’t include stories with #MeToo-related ramifications,” he continued.

He added that The Post attributed the coverage bans to his public statements, not his gender or victim status.

“Indeed, a news publication has a constitutionally protected right to adopt and enforce policies designed to protect public confidence in its impartiality and objectivity,” the judge wrote.

The Post, as part of its argument that it had not broken the law, had asked that the case be dismissed under legislation known as Anti-SLAPP, which aims to protect speech. The Post had argued that its rulings on which stories Ms. Sonmez was prohibited from covering were part of its editorial judgment protected by the First Amendment.

Judge Epstein said decisions on how to assign journalists were not covered by anti-SLAPP legislation because they were not “a form of speech”.

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