A political breaking news reporter for the Washington Post is suing the outlet and its top executives for banning her from writing about sexual assault cases as an alleged sexual assault survivor.
In court documents submitted to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Thursday, Felicia Sonmez claims editors at the Post prohibited her from covering any stories involving sexual assault allegations after she released a statement about her own alleged sexual assault in 2018.
As a result, she argues, she has not been able to write about the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, President Joe Biden or Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The ban was ultimately lifted earlier this year after Sonmez took to Twitter to call out the publication for its policy – but Sonmez’s attorneys claim in the court documents the damage had already been done.
Breaking news political reporter Felicia Sonmez, left, claims her bosses at the Washington Post prohibited her from writing about sexual assault, under the leadership of former Executive Editor Marty Baron
In court documents filed Thursday, she claims she suffered from ‘economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities’ as a result of the ban
They say in the lawsuit she suffered from ‘economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities’ as a result of the ban.
‘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 lawsuit, obtained by DailyMail.com, reads.
It claims she was prescribed anti-depressants, which she continues to take, and developed TMJ from grinding her teeth at night.
As a result, the lawsuit states, she ‘had to undergo two oral surgery procedures to relieve the pain in her jaw.’
Washington Post officials declined to comment to DailyMail.com on the lawsuit, which names not only the paper as a defendant, but also former Executive Editor Marty Baron, Managing Editor Tracy Grant, Managing Editor Cameron Barr, National Editor Steven Ginsberg , National Editor Lori Montgomery and Senior Politics Editor Peter Wallsten.
In a statement to CNN, Sonmez said she filed the lawsuit because she believes ‘survivors of trauma, including sexual assault, deserve the full support of their newsrooms.
‘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,’ she said.
She is seeking punitive and compensatory damages in the lawsuit, as well as a permanent injunction ordering The Post and its editors to ‘take all affirmative steps necessary to remedy the effects of the illegal, discriminatory and retaliatory conduct described in the lawsuit.’
Sonmez filed the lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Thursday claiming she was discriminated against because she was a victim of sexual assault
Sonmez has previously claimed that she was sexually assaulted by the LA Times’ Beijing bureau chief in 2017, while she was on assignment in the city.
Several months after her alleged encounter, another woman wrote on Medium.com that she had also been sexually assaulted by the bureau chief, at which time Sonmez wrote a letter to the FCCC detailing her allegations against him, which she also sent to the LA Times ‘because they failed to take any observable action,’ the lawsuit says.
Sonmez went for an interview at the Washington Post a little more than a week later, it states, at which time executives allegedly asked her why she decided to speak out, to which Sonmez reportedly replied that she was not convinced her accuser was ‘being truthful about his behavior, that other woman had similar stories and that if she stayed silent, more women could be harmed by him.’
The man she claims sexually assaulted her has repeatedly denied these claims, and said that the encounter was consensual.
She was hired shortly thereafter, and, the lawsuit claims, officials at the Post agreed to let her release a statement about the alleged sexual assault.
The day she issued her statement, though, the lawsuit says, her editors decided to cancel her MSNBC appearance, in which she would talk about her article detailing Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
‘Defendant’s jurisdiction for this ban was that the details of Ms. Ford’s accusations were “too similar” to the assault Ms. Sonmez experienced in Beijing,’ the lawsuit states. ‘This ban was later expanded to include all #MeToo-related coverage.’
As the ban on covering the Kavanaugh case continued, Sonmez claims she wrote in an email to her bosses: ‘I now feel frustrated and uncomfortable being in the newsroom but unable to report on this story…
‘I feel that I have been sideline d from this story based on what happened to me in Beijing… and I strongly disagree with the decision,’ she wrote.
Executives then reportedly agreed to meet with her, at which point Managing Editor Barr allegedly accused her of ‘being an activist, saying that by speaking out she was trying to have it “both ways” by publicly disclosing her own assault and continuing to report on the topic.’
Ginsberg, meanwhile, reportedly raised his voice and told her it would present ‘the appearance of a conflict of interest if she continued to report on Kavanaugh.’
The ban ultimately expanded to include any sexual assault story, her attorneys allege, and sometimes she was taken off multiple stories a day.
‘Every day that Ms. Sonmez was prohibited from writing a story was an act of discrimination and/or retaliation,’ the attorneys argue in the lawsuit.
‘Each time, the ban served as a constant reminder that she was assaulted and that her editors viewed her as being somehow “defective” in comparison to her colleagues.’
The ban was ultimately lifted on November 7, 2018, the attorneys report, after which time she wrote about two dozen stories on issues related to sexual misconduct.
But on August 23, 2019, an article was published in Reason Magazine that was critical of her accusations against the Beijing bureau chief, who had since been fired from his job, and she reportedly started receiving ‘dozens of abusive messages targeting Ms. Sonmez online.’
She had reportedly asked the magazine for a correction to the article two days later, pinning a tweet about the reported ‘inaccuracies,’ which her bosses allegedly asked her to take down, and by September 4, she was once again banned from writing about sexual assault.
When she was ultimately denied the ability to write about Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden, she reportedly wrote to her bosses again, saying: ‘It’s simply discriminatory for the Post to bar one of its reporters from covering sexual assault due to her identity as a sexual assault survivor who has publicly come forward.
‘I believe it’s important for you to know that The Post’s decision on this matter has had negative repercussions for me personally in the past, and it will continue to do so.
‘It is humiliating to again and again have to tell my colleagues and editors that I am not allowed to do my job fully because I was assaulted.
‘It’s the tortured explanations I have to give whenever there is breaking news on the topic and I’m not allowed to cover it.
‘I just want to do my job,’ she continued. ‘I’ve proven that I can write with clarity, speed and authority on this topic; if anything, I believe my experience gives me a better understanding of the nuances, sensitivities and responsibilities in covering sexual assault.’
Things ultimately came to a head in March, one month after Baron resigned, when executives seemed to come to the defense of another reporter, who was receiving racist and sexist comments online.
She Steven Ginsberg came to her defense in a tweet, and in a newsroom-wide discussion on social media following the incident, panelists praised him for his statement.
At that point, the outlet reports, she wrote in Zoom’s chat function: ‘I wish editors had publicly supported me in the same way when I was being harassed rather than suspending me.’
‘While the Post and its editors were basking in the positive coverage surrounding their defense of their reporters who were attacked online, Ms. Sonmez was experiencing symptoms of acute stress disorder, including intrusive thoughts, dissociation, significant distress, an ability to focus and fluctuations in her ability to eat or sleep,’ the lawsuit claims.
In a long Twitter thread on March 28, Sonmez said she realized she did not feel supported by the Post, even after Baron left his position as executive editor
On March 28, Sonmez took to Twitter to express her frustration, writing that just hours before the meeting, she ‘had a session with a therapist I hadn’t seen for more than a year.
‘At one point, he asked me whether I feel supported by the Post’s current management, now that the editor who oversaw my suspension had retired. And I just burst into tears.’
She wrote that she was surprised by his directness, more than one year after the ban was initiated under Baron.
‘I’ve pleaded with the editors to lift it, to no avail. So I’ve just kept trying to do my job,’ she tweeted at the time.
‘But that question from my therapist forced me to acknowledge to myself that I do not feel reported.’
She said she was stunned to see Ginsberg, whom she described as ‘the same editor who had silenced me from defending myself online, said nothing when I had to leave my home and threats and continues to bar me from fully doing my job’ being hailed ‘as an authority on protecting female journalists.’
‘It would be great if senior editors at the Post prioritized actually supporting their female and POC staff instead of presenting the appearance of doing so as they compete for the paper’s top job.
‘This harms all of us,’ she concluded.
The very next day, the Post announced her ban was lifted, with spokeswoman Kris Coratti saying in a statement: ‘Following a newsroom discussion two weeks ago, editors began re-evaluating limitations on the scope of Felicia’s work as a breaking-news reporter.
‘They have concluded such limitations are unnecessary.’
The Newspaper Guild, which represents Washington Post journalists, said in a statement following the announcement: ‘We’re glad to see The Post reverse its harmful stance and allow our colleague Felicia Sonmez to do her job
‘But th edecision came only after much public criticism and at the expense of Felicia’s mental health.
‘The Post must do better,’ it said.