A Washington Post reporter sued her paper, its former top editor, and other senior leaders over claims of discrimination for actions against her taken after she talked publicly about being a sexual assault survivor.
Felicia Sonmez, a national political reporter who made headlines in 2020 when the outlet suspended her after she mentioned a rape allegation against NBA star Kobe Bryant hours after his death, filed the lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Thursday.
The defendants in the suit are former Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron, Managing Editor Cameron Barr, Managing Editor Tracy Grant, National Editor Steven Ginsberg, Deputy National Editor Lori Montgomery, and Senior Politics Editor Peter Wallsten. Baron retired from the Washington Post at the end of February.
Sonmez, who had been open about being a sexual assault survivor, was prohibited from covering high-profile stories about sexual misconduct, a policy the paper said was to address potential conflicts of interest, stemming back to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process in October 2018 when he faced allegations of sexual misconduct at the height of the #MeToo movement.
After Sonmez tweeted about the 2003 rape case involving Bryant following his death in a helicopter crash, Baron put her on paid administrative leave. He said her tweets “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues." Her suspension ended after hundreds of colleagues rallied to support her in a letter, and the policy blocking Sonmez from covering stories on sexual misconduct was reversed in March after she publicly criticized the ban.
But Sonmez claims in the lawsuit that the damage had already been done.
Sonmez suffered from "economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities," the complaint said. "At various times, Ms. Sonmez became severely depressed, developed intense anxiety and received treatment from therapists and psychiatrists who she continues to see today."
The reporter "eventually developed temporomandibular joint disorder" and, as a result, "had to undergo two oral surgery procedures to relieve the pain in her jaw," the lawsuit claimed.
"They should never have to fear that they will be punished, silenced or barred from doing their jobs because of what was done to them," Sonmez said in a statement, adding that "survivors of trauma, including sexual assault, deserve the full support of their newsrooms."
She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in addition to a permanent injunction ordering the outlet to "take all affirmative steps necessary to remedy the effects of the illegal, discriminatory and retaliatory conduct described," according to the lawsuit.
The Washington Post declined to comment for this article. Sonmez, whose most recent byline was published on Wednesday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Original Author: Mike Brest