Reporter Tara Murtha of the alt-publication Philadelphia Weekly has filed a federal civil suit against her employer alleging that she was not compensated equally with her male colleagues and that the organization is a "hostile and sexually discriminatory work environment.” In response, multiple publications have written about the suit, with one calling it "a bit strange."
Murtha, who is a Senior Writer at the Weekly (and who has published on Jezebel before) alleges two things in her lawsuit. The first is that her pay was reduced due to cost-cutting measures when the company was going through financial struggles (journalism, ya know), but that after that, a male employee was hired at her original salary. This is despite the fact that he "had the same job description, responsibilities, expectations, and job title" as Murtha. The second complaint is more broad-based; Murtha alleges that the Philadelphia Weekly has a "frat house atmosphere." She points out that they allowed a male colleague to display "multiple pictures of naked and/or scantily clad women" and believes that the Weekly's parent company Review Publishing "fostered and encouraged a male-dominated, sexist and chauvinistic atmosphere at the Philadelphia Weekly's office."
In response, Ryan Briggs, a staff writer at the Philadelphia City Paper, published a satirical article pretending that he too was going to sue for "harassment and repression at the hands of the City Paper's almost-all-female editorial staff." An excerpt:
"I would try my best to make this office place a friendly environment for men like myself, throwing daily beer-drinking competitions with the guys from sales, putting up cool black-light posters and pictures of totally rockin' muscle cars around the office," said Briggs. "I can't tell you how many times I would come back into the office only to find my beer, my leftover pizza, the posters, everything — vandalized. Gone."
It’s perhaps odd, for example, that Murtha uses a co-worker’s “proud displays of pornography” as evidence of sexism at a paper that has featured American Apparel’s oft-controversial ads of scantily clad women on its back page for years — a back page that immediately followed the alt-weekly back-section mainstay of ads for adult services. And although the complaint doesn’t specify just how loud the “frat house atmosphere” of PW was, a loud newsroom is not unusual.
The detail of Murtha's lawsuit that stands out the most is when she describes not being reimbursed for a expenses incurred while reporting a story about abortion; Murtha has been commended for her impressive reporting on the Dr. Kermit Gosnell story:
In another instance, Plantiff was denied an application to have her gas money reimbursed for travelling from Philadelphia to West Chester to cover a story about abortion, despite the fact that a male employee (J. Cooper Robb) had recently been granted a similar reimbursement to travel within Philadelphia for a theatre review.
Murtha is a respected journalist who spends a great deal of time writing, reading and reporting on issues like this, so if she says she's uncomfortable at work, it's worth taking her seriously before assuming she's just angry, bitter and complaining. On her side is the EEOC, which has said she has a right to sue. The biggest thing she has going for her is clearly the pay disparity situation. Her general feelings about the Philadelphia Weekly being a hostile work environment are likely going to be difficult to prove. You can read Murtha's entire complaint below. She's asking for $150,000 in damages.