Former New York Post editor claims discrimination in lawsuit

Sandra Guzman alleges that Rupert Murdoch's US newspaper fostered a 'hostile work environment'

Rupert Murdoch's flagship American tabloid newspaper, the New York Post, has been accused of an extraordinary litany of racist and sexist behaviour by a former senior editor who is claiming discrimination in her sacking in September.

Sandra Guzman has filed a discrimination lawsuit in the New York courts against Murdoch's media empire, News Corporation, the New York Post and its editor-in-chief Col Allan. She claims that behind the Post's famously pointed and cheeky headlines lies a "hostile work environment where female employees and employees of colour have been subjected to pervasive and systematic discrimination and/or unlawful harassment based on their gender".

Guzman was hired by the paper in July 2003 by Murdoch's eldest son Lachlan, who was then publisher of the Post, with the express instruction to help attract more Hispanic readers. She is an award-winning journalist known for her reporting of Latin American affairs, and she claims that her input, including the founding of a new section called Tempo directed at Hispanics, increased circulation among this community by 40%.

But she ran into conflict with management at the Post over the controversial decision to publish a cartoon in February this year that drew an implicit comparison between the recently inaugurated President Barack Obama and a violent chimpanzee shot dead by police. Following a public outcry, Rupert Murdoch was forced to apologise for the cartoon.

Guzman complained about the cartoon in an internal email that was leaked to outside blogs. In the lawsuit, she claims that her complaint was ignored and instead management retaliated against her, leading to her dismissal in September.

She also claims the Obama cartoon was part of a concerted effort by the paper's management to undermine America's first black president. The lawsuit alleges that Charles Hurt, the Post's Washington bureau chief, once told her that the goal was "to destroy Barack Obama. We don't want him to succeed."

The New York Post said the lawsuit is groundless and without merit. A spokeswoman said: "Ms Guzman's position was eliminated when a section she edited was discontinued due to a decline in advertising sales."

Despite the outright rejection of the suit, News Corporation executives are likely to be discomfited by the mass of detailed allegations contained in Guzman's legal complaint.

She reserves her strongest accusations for Col Allan, the Australian editor-in-chief who she says actively participated in discrimination against her.

The lawsuit alleges that at after-work drinks, he approached her and three other women employees and showed them pictures of a man exposing himself on his BlackBerry, with the comment: "What do you think of this?"

Guzman complained but no action was taken.

In other alleged incidents, Allan commented on a woman employee's breasts and referred to a black receptionist as "that damn girl".

Another unnamed senior editor is alleged to have had sex with junior women staff against company policy, while a third is said to have offered a reporter's job to a copy assistant in return for oral sex.

A white male columnist would sing I Want to Live in America from the musical West Side Story, adopting a fake Spanish accent, in what Guzman took as a derogatory reference to her Puerto Rican descent.


Ed Pilkington in New York

The GuardianTramp

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