The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity editor, Sonya Ross, sued her employer Monday in federal court over alleged discrimination.
Ms. Ross, a 30-year veteran of the newswire, claims in the lawsuit that she has repeatedly been denied job promotions on account of her race, age and gender.
The 17-page civil complaint filed by Ms. Ross’ attorneys in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges that the journalist has been routinely denied employment opportunities by the AP’s D.C. bureau chief, and claims that she was retaliated against when she attempted to blow the whistle on the alleged discrimination.
Ms. Ross joined AP as an intern in 1986, and by 1999 she had become the first black woman to sit on the board of the White House Correspondents’ Association. She continued to rise through the ranks of the wire for another decade, but alleges that the bureau chief appointed in 2008 to oversee the agency’s D.C. operations — a white male identified in the suit only as “Employee A” — began discriminating against her immediately after he landed the gig.
“No sooner than Employee A became bureau chief, he began marginalizing Ms. Ross, singling her out for criticism and creating a hostile and abusive environment. Ms. Ross was pulled from the team of editors being sent to the Democratic National Convention that year, and at one point was spoken to very harshly by Employee A in front of one of her reporters,” the lawsuit alleges.
The AP announced in August 2010 that Ms. Ross had been promoted to the role of Race and Ethnicity Editor, but she alleges that it took more than two years before a 2 percent pay increase began appearing in her paychecks. In the interim, Employee A left AP for the National Journal, according to the suit.
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Despite her former boss’s departure in mid-2010, the lawsuit claims the alleged the pattern of discrimination was still occurring in the fall of 2011 when Ms. Ross learned that the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance would conduct an onsite audit at AP’s D.C. office. Although she claims she was told by a human resources manager to “keep quite about the discrimination she experienced,” the suit alleges Ms. Ross opened up to auditors, who eventually determined the company had “allowed, and tolerated, a climate of hostility toward African American employees” when the audit concluded earlier this year.
Ms. Ross claims that in addition to a pattern of discrimination that began with her boss’ hiring in 2008, her attempts to raise her concerns with federal authorities yielded further retaliation in the workplace.
“Ms. Ross has continued to work at AP under conditions that have been extremely stressful and humiliating,” the suit reads. “She senses antipathy toward her on AP’s part, and believes AP wants to destroy her credibility in the media industry in retaliation for her complaints about her former boss, and for triggering the investigation that led to this finding of discrimination by the federal Department of Labor.”
An AP spokesman declined to comment on the accusations when reached by the National Law Journal where the lawsuit was first reported Monday; Ms. Ross deferred questions to her attorneys. She is seeking compensation for the money she alleges she was denied as a result of the supposed discrimination, as well as a new job “consistent with her experience and training.”
Although Ms. Ross’ supervisor is not named in the suit, the Washington City Paper on Tuesday reported that all signs suggest the mysterious “Employee A” is none other than Ron Fournier, who indeed served as AP’s bureau chief in D.C. until leaving in 2010 for the National Journal. Mr. Fournier did not respond to the City Paper’s requests for comment.