Reporter suing Washington Post for discrimination after coming forward about sexual assault

Reporter suing Washington Post for discrimination after coming forward about sexual assault
© Greg Nash

A reporter at The Washington Post is suing the newspaper for allegedly discriminating against her after she came forward with a personal story of sexual assault.

Political reporter Felicia Sonmez filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the Post, former Executive Editor Marty Baron, managing editors Cameron Barr and Tracy Grant, national editor Steven Ginsberg and other newsroom leaders. 

The lawsuit alleges Sonmez experienced “economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities" following a ban editors placed on her barring her from covering stories related to sexual assault and the #MeToo movement. The ban followed her disclosure that she was a sexual assault survivor. 

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Sonmez publicly criticized newsroom leadership earlier this year in a 16-tweet thread, accusing top brass at the paper of not supporting survivors of sexual violence and opening her up to further trauma stemming from her own assault. 

"I’ve tried to keep my head down and just do my job the best I can, despite having to take myself off sexual assault-related stories at least once every week or two, sometimes even more often," she wrote at the time.

"I faced no ban my first three months on the job. I wrote #MeToo-related stories with no problem. It was only once the [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh story broke in Sept. 2018 that the editors enacted one. It was lifted several months later, then reinstated in late 2019 when I was being attacked online after the publication of a story about the man who assaulted me. The ban has been in place ever since, for more than a year now," she wrote.

The ban was eventually lifted, but Sonmez's lawsuit alleges the damage to her personal life and professional reputation had already been done. 

“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 states. 

It claims the journalist experienced severe physical pain caused by the stress of her situation at the Post, "including severe pain in her jaw from grinding her teeth at night.” The lawsuit says she “eventually developed temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder." 

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The Post on Thursday declined to comment on the lawsuit. Baron left the Post in January and retired. 

In a statement issued through her attorney on Thursday, Sonmez said her editors at the Post "took away my ability to decide what stories I was capable of covering." 

"Not all survivors publicly share their stories. But all survivors of trauma, including sexual assault, deserve the full support of their newsrooms," she said. "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.”

Her editor's actions "retraumatized and humiliated me by forcing me to relive my assault at work, over and over, whenever news broke and a colleague would ask why I wasn’t allowed to cover a story," Sonmez said.