Reporter Felicia Sonmez is suing the Washington Post over allegations of discrimination.
The Washington Post was recently hit with a lawsuit filed by reporter Felicia Sonmez over allegations of discrimination. According to the suit, the paper’s “former executive editor, Marty Baron, and other newsroom leaders deliberately sidelined her from covering sexual misconduct after she went public with her own experience of assault.”
Additionally, the lawsuit claims the Washington Post “denied Sonmez the opportunity to cover many stories that were newsworthy and received widespread attention that would have led to further exposure and career advancement…while simultaneously opening the door to economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, and mental and emotional distress.”
It’s important to note that Sonmez went public with sexual-assault allegations against former Los Angeles Times journalist Jon Kaiman back in 2018. According to her, Kaiman “sexually penetrated her in Beijing the year before, when she was too drunk to consent.” Similar allegations against Kaiman were filed by another woman that same year. While Kaiman has so far denied the allegations, he ended up resigning from the Times as an investigation into the claims got underway.
In June, 2018, Sonmez took a position at the Washington Post breaking political news. According to the suit, the Post reviewed a “public statement on her alleged assault, which she released in September.” However, that same month, Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Soon after hearing Ford’s story, Sonmez said “her bosses removed her from the coverage plan, explaining that her allegations against Kaiman were too similar to Blasey Ford’s against Kavanaugh.” Additionally, “her editors also cited her initial reaction when the news broke – that she found it too difficult to read and she went for a walk around the block to collect herself – as evidence that she wouldn’t be able to remain objective in her reporting.”
Sonmez also claims that she knows of a male colleague who “faced sexual-misconduct allegations of his own, though he was never banned from covering stories related to sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior by men.” In fact, he wrote “more than a dozen of them.” Sonmez, on the other hand, was allegedly told that, “because she had positioned herself as an activist, she had created a conflict of interest.”
In November 2018, the ban preventing Sonmez from covering those types of stories was lifted, though it was quickly reinstated in August 2019, “when an article questioning Sonmez’s account triggered a wave of harassment online.” After making a public request for a correction, her editors allegedly removed her from covering #MeToo-type stories. Additionally, they warned her that “reporters should make every effort to remain in the audience, to be the stagehand rather than the star, to report the news, not to make the news.” The suit took that to mean that the Post was disciplining Sonmez “for making herself the ‘star’ of her own sexual assault.”
To make matters worse, Sonmez was suspended in 2020 when she tweeted an article about “the rape allegations against Kobe Bryant.” The suspension was short lived after the paper received pushback from the Post union and other employees. As a result of all the back and forth, writing bans, and suspension, Sonmez said she feels like her relationship with her employers soured and she is now trapped in a hostile work environment.
The suit argues that Sonmez has developed depression, anxiety, and she has lost out on career opportunities. As a result, she is seeking a jury trial and yet-to-be determined damages.