Post editors said the restrictions were due to her public statements about her own experiences of alleged assault by another reporter while working in China, but Sonmez’s lawsuit argues the Post subjected her to a double standard as a woman and as a victim of crime. , categories specifically protected by the district’s anti-discrimination law.
A Post attorney, Jacob Roth, said the rulings affect the newspaper’s content and therefore entitled the newspaper to an expedited dismissal under the speech protection measure, which takes its name from an acronym for lawsuits. strategies against public participation.
“Bans are decisions by the Post’s editors about which stories the plaintiff should cover and which stories the plaintiff shouldn’t cover. These rulings are expressive acts taken for the purpose of communicating with the public about matters of concern,” said Roth, a partner at the law firm Jones Day. “We recognize that this is not your typical anti-SLAPP case. In fact, the Post has never invoked the anti-SLAPP law in an employment case before.
Roth also pointed out that, according to the Post, Sonmez’s coverage limits were not punishment. The attorney also argued that Sonmez’s 2020 two-day suspension with pay for his alleged violation of the Post’s social media policy in tweets about basketball star Kobe Bryant on the occasion of his death in a helicopter crash – tweets that mentioned sexual assault allegations against him – was not serious enough to qualify as a “harmful action” under employment law.
Sonmez’s lawyer, Sundeep Hora, warned Judge Anthony Epstein that allowing the Post to invoke the anti-SLAPP law in these circumstances would essentially exempt the paper from the discrimination law, making it virtually impossible for a reporter or editor chief to pursue a racial or gender bias complaint.
“You just can’t use the First Amendment as some sort of backdrop to make discriminatory personnel decisions,” Hora said, arguing that the Post’s position would allow him to hire “all-male staff from white race”, at least for certain problems. .
Hora said Sonmez’s status as a sexual assault victim shouldn’t have stopped him from covering some stories, nor should current Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson be forced to recuse himself. drug cases because his cousin was convicted of a drug-related crime.
“Can it serve adequately in criminal cases?” The answer is yes,” Hora said.
However, Epstein suggested that the problem in Sonmez’s case lay more with his public comments related to the sexual assault than his story or gender. “Ms. Sonmez was treated exactly the same – until she made statements,” the judge said. victim of these crimes…. She wasn’t banned just because she was a woman from covering the #MeToo movement.
Epstein seemed more sympathetic to Sonmez’s assertion that banning her from such a story might constitute adverse action even if she was not demoted and her salary was not reduced. He said preventing him from covering stories such as the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh could have hurt his career.
“It’s hard to think of a bigger story than the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. If a reporter is prevented from covering the kind of stories that win Pulitzer Prizes… doesn’t that affect prospects for advancement and success of the journalist?” asked Epstein.
Roth said Sonmez’s lawsuit does not allege that the other stories she was assigned to were “side stuff that nobody cares about.”
The Post’s attorney also said the actions against Sonmez were taken in order to preserve the newspaper’s perception of “objectivity and impartiality.” Roth said those judgments were certainly open to public debate, but for a court to intervene to challenge them would set a bad precedent for free speech and freedom of the press.
“What is happening in this case is not really appropriate for a court to decide,” Roth said.
Sonmez attended arguments on Friday, which were held by videoconference, but spoke only briefly at the start of the hearing to identify himself.
Although Epstein appeared skeptical of some of Sonmez’s lawyer’s arguments, he did not issue a ruling on Friday or give a clear indication of how he planned to rule on the Post’s motion to dismiss the suit, though he said his goal was to move “quickly” on the matter.
“You gave me even more to think about,” Judge said.