On Thursday, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez filed a lawsuit against the newspaper, former executive editor Marty Baron, and other senior leaders at the publication accusing them of unlawfully discriminating against her after she publicly revealed that she had been sexually assaulted. Leadership at The Post reportedly first barred Sonmez from writing on sexual misconduct in 2018, not long after Christine Blasey Ford accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault—which also happened to be around the same time that Sonmez first publicly accused then-Los Angeles Times journalist Jonathan Kaiman of assaulting her in China.
The news of these restrictions on Sonmez’s reporting and writing became public in early 2021 after Politico reported on them. In an email to senior management obtained by Politico, Sonmez wrote:
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. 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.
Although The Post has since lifted its ban, allowing Sonmez to write stories on issues of sexual misconduct and violence, the belated reversal of that rule didn’t undo the harm she had already experienced. The lawsuit states that Sonmez had suffered “economic loss, humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and the deprivation of her rights to equal employment opportunities” as a result of the situation.
Unsurprisingly, this experience has had a significant and lasting effect on both Sonmez’s mental and physical health, reports CNN. “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 says. “She also experienced physical pain, including severe pain in her jaw from grinding her teeth at night,” which eventually lead her to develop TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) and required her to undergo “two oral surgery procedures” to relieve the severe jaw pain.
In her suit, Sonmez asks for compensatory and punitive damages in addition to a permanent injunction compelling The Post and its editors to “take all affirmative steps necessary to remedy the effects of the illegal, discriminatory and retaliatory conduct.” In a statement to CNN Business, Sonmez said that she believed “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 added.