A Half-Century After Good Girls Revolt, Newsweek May Face Another Gender-Discrimination Suit [Updated]

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Nearly 50 years after 46 female staffers won a class action lawsuit against Newsweek, the magazine may again be facing a legal battle over gender discrimination. HuffPost reported on Wednesday that international law firm McAllister Olivarius is looking into allegations against both the magazine and former editor-in-chief Matthew McAllester.

“We’ve spoken to a number of people about a separate suit against Newsweek, and a separate suit against Matt McAllester individually,” senior partner Ann Olivarius told HuffPost. Olivarius is handling another lawsuit against McAllester brought by his former boss at Time Europe, Catherine Mayer, who alleged that upper management—including McAllester—discriminated against “‘non-macho’ men and women who did not conform to traditional expectations of gender roles.” Mayer, who is a dual citizen of the UK and the US, filed her lawsuit in New York, where Time’s management is based, in July. Time has said the lawsuit has no merit.


One staffer described “an absolute culture of fear” during McAllester’s tenure, and several sources said that the magazine was dismissive of complaints about McAllester until Mayer’s lawsuit. “When Mayer’s lawsuit dropped, it gave shape to what everyone was seeing,” said one employee: “They started putting the pieces together of what was currently going on at Newsweek and realized it looked bad; the pattern was repeating itself.” Among the complaints: McAllester allegedly implemented a grueling quota system that applied to mostly junior female staffers, seemingly targeted women in layoffs, and under his tenure, men earned far more cover stories than women.

Another source defended McAllester, however, attributing the turmoil to a larger cultural issue: “I never saw, experienced, or heard about any instances of discrimination, gender or otherwise, during my time working with Matt McAllester.” The same source said, “What I saw was an extremely talented writer and editor, and a fair, hard-working and communicative manager who created a happy and supportive working environment — until management changes at Newsweek disrupted that environment.” Several London staffers who worked under McAllester also defended their former boss to HuffPost.

McAllester took leave of absence on August 9 and was fired from the company later that month. (Neither McAllester nor Bob Roe, Newsweek’s current editor-in-chief, responded to Jezebel’s request for comment.)

If staffers do bring a suit forward, it would not be the first large discrimination case against Newsweek. The case may sound familiar; last year Amazon developed an adaptation of the lawsuit with Good Girls Revolt, based on the book of the same name by former Newsweek writer Lynn Povich. In the 1960s, women at the magazine were relegated to roles as researchers or clippers and usually blocked from ascending to staff writer, a more prestigious position reserved for men. When researcher Judy Gingold learned that this was in violation of the Civil Rights Act, she and Povich—one of the few women to serve as a junior writer at the magazine—filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. ACLU lawyer Eleanor Holmes-Norton (now Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton) took up the case, which was the first class action lawsuit brought by a group of exclusively women in the US. The women, who had requested that women make up a third of the reporters and writers, and men make up at least a third of the researchers, won. Still, Newsweek’s management failed to meet their demands, however, and the women sued again in 1972. Women in media took notice and filed or threatened suits against the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, NPR, and elsewhere in the coming years. In 1975, Povich became the magazine’s first female senior editor.


Povich wrote about Newsweek’s treatment of women in the Mad Men-era in her book, but even at Newsweek, her legacy was almost forgotten. In 2010, after a series of sex discrimination allegations at ESPN, David Letterman’s Late Show, and the New York Post, Newsweek writers Sarah Ball, Jessica Bennett, and Jesse Ellison discovered the history of their publication for the first time and, in a piece reflecting on the lawsuit’s 40-year anniversary, remarked on “just how much has changed, and how much hasn’t” by 2010:

But men wrote all but six of NEWSWEEK’s 49 cover stories last year—and two of those used the headline “The Thinking Man.” In 1970, 25 percent of NEWSWEEK’s editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39 percent. Better? Yes. But it’s hardly equality. (Overall, 49 percent of the entire company, the business and editorial sides, is female.)


The HuffPost report notes that in 2015 and 2016, under former editor Jim Impoco, women co-wrote 40 percent of the magazine’s cover stories, showing considerable improvement in women’s representation in at least one part of the magazine. However, in McAllester’s brief tenure, the Post found that percentage dipped to 26. “To put it another way, female writers were about 50 percent more likely to get the cover story before McAllester took over,” the Post reported.

But, as Povich has written about exhaustively (and as is evident by the onslaught of news about men abusing power in executive positions), the problem is hardly limited to Newsweek (or even the news media). In fact, in 2016, Amazon adapted Povich’s account into a pilot season. Though it received high praise, the show was canceled unceremoniously and without explanation. According to actress Anna Camp, former Amazon Studios head Roy Price didn’t like the show. In an ironic turn of events, Price was recently ousted over sexual harassment allegations.


“I don’t know anything about this case,” Povich told Jezebel over the phone. “I don’t know anybody at Newsweek anymore, they’re run obviously by a different company, so I really can’t comment on this case.”

“What I want to say is we filed sex discrimination charges in 1970, so that’s 47 years ago. And I have to reiterate that most of our issues were about job discrimination, about the fact that we couldn’t get promoted out of the research category and become reporters and writers and editors,” she said. “What surprised me,” she said speaking more broadly about sexual harassment allegations at Fox News and, more recently, Harvey Weinstein, “was that we had thought that this kind of sexual harassment and intimidation had sort of gone underground.”


“There were people in these companies that were enabling it—men, as well as some women. My feeling about that is that, you know, people are writing a lot of stories about why didn’t women speak up before—and you know, of course we know the reasons why. But how many people are saying why didn’t the men speak up? Because it’s certainly a lot of men who knew it,” she added.

If you know something you think we should know about Newsweek, send us a note at tips@jezebel.com.


Update 10/20 1:15 pm: Dr. Olivarius told Jezebel that her office has received calls from about 20 individuals—most of whom are current and former New York staffers, but also a few from London—alleging that McAllester undermined and discriminated against female employees. The callers have mentioned that there are other individuals who may want to share their experiences, Olivarius said, adding that employees began contacting her after the Mayer case was filed. In the suit, Mayer alleged that McAllester “created staff tensions that had not existed prior to his arrival,” described her as a “diva,” and was “overly and brazenly contemptuous” of her. Olivarius said that several individuals told her reading Mayer’s lawsuit was like “reading a page out of their own lives.”

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Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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