NY Post must face bias lawsuit linked to Obama chimp cartoon

Reuters

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The New York Post and its topeditor must face a bias lawsuit brought by a woman who said shewas fired for complaining about harassment at the newspaper anda political cartoon that some people said likened PresidentBarack Obama to a chimpanzee.

In a decision made public on Tuesday, U.S. District JudgeLorna Schofield said Sandra Guzman, a former associate editor,may pursue her case against the Post and Editor-in-Chief ColAllan, though not against the newspaper's parent, News Corp.

Schofield said Guzman provided "evidence of a sexuallycharged environment at the Post, permeating the newsroom,meetings and holiday parties," and that her complaints wererebuffed.

She said Guzman, who is black and Puerto Rican, offeredsufficient evidence that she faced "severe or pervasiveharassment" based on her race and national origin, and mighthave kept her job but for objecting to a cartoon published on Feb. 18, 2009, that criticized a government stimulus package.

Schofield did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit.

The cartoon showed two befuddled-looking policemen standingover a chimpanzee that had been shot, two days after a similarincident in Stamford, Connecticut.

One police officer in the cartoon said: "They'll have tofind someone else to write the next stimulus bill." Some peoplesaid the animal was meant to depict Obama. News Corp ChairmanRupert Murdoch later apologized to readers.

A spokeswoman for the Post said in an email: "We are pleasedthat the claims against News Corp were thrown out. We lookforward to presenting the truth about the remaining charges --which are completely unfounded -- to a jury."

NEWSPAPER CALLED ALLEGATIONS 'TRIVIAL'

Guzman, who sued in November 2009, two months after beingfired, accused former colleagues of making frequent impropercomments, including calling her "Cha Cha #1," singing "I want tolive in America" from the musical "West Side Story" with aSpanish accent, or calling female staff a "harem."

She also accused Allan of engaging in improper activity,including sexualized behavior at a party, and expressingdisapproval at a meeting of a female editor's story list bysaying, "It's hard to teach old bitches new tricks."

The defendants contended that Guzman was fired because thenewspaper had closed its money-losing Tempo monthly, where shehad worked, and that no other jobs were available for her.

They said her claims of a hostile work environment werebased on "trivial" incidents and could not be supported by acartoon that was protected speech under the First Amendment.

OPEN QUESTIONS

In dismissing Guzman's claims against News Corp itself,Schofield said she had not shown that the company and the Postwere one and the same for purposes of her employment.

But the judge said there was an open question as to whetherGuzman was fired because Tempo failed, and that evidence showedshe could have been moved to an open, albeit lower-paying, job.

She said Allan should remain a defendant because he haddecision-making authority, and there was sufficient evidence tosuggest that his alleged comments and behavior "ostensiblycontributed" to a hostile work environment.

Douglas Wigdor, a partner at the law firm Thompson Wigdorrepresenting Guzman, said: "We're very pleased with thedecision, and that Ms. Guzman will be able to hold the New YorkPost and Col Allan responsible for their discriminatory actionsat trial."

The case is Guzman v News Corp et al, U.S. District Court,Southern District of New York, No. 09-09323.

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