A “SLAPP” is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”—a meritless lawsuit, usually filed by a well-resourced plaintiff to deter ordinary people from exercising their political or legal rights or to make it costly for them to do so. Most states, and the District of Columbia, have enacted “anti-SLAPP” laws to make it easier for defendants to get such lawsuits dismissed quickly and to recover their attorney’s fees from the abusive plaintiffs.
This lawsuit was filed by a Washington Post reporter, Felicia Sonmez, against the Washington Post. The Post calls it a SLAPP. We filed an amicus brief explaining why it is not.
On two occasions, the Post removed Ms. Sonmez, for a time, from covering stories involving sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement after she made public statements referencing her status as a victim of a sexual offense and expressing solidarity with other victims of sexual offenses. Her lawsuit alleged that the Post’s action discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and her status as a victim of a sexual offense. The Post moved to dismiss her case as a SLAPP, on the ground that its editorial decisions are protected by the First Amendment.
The D.C. Superior Court dismissed her case on the ground that “the facts alleged by Ms. Sonmez do not support a plausible inference that the Post discriminated against her, or created a hostile work environment, wholly or partially because she is the victim of a sexual assault or a woman.” In the court’s view, however, the lawsuit was not a SLAPP, because the Post had not shown that the reporter’s legal claims arose out an “act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest,” which is what the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act requires.
Ms. Sonmez appealed the dismissal of her case and the Post appealed the decision that her lawsuit wasn’t a SLAPP.
As our brief explains, the fundamental mischief addressed by anti-SLAPP statutes is the bullying conduct of wealthy business entities against local activists who cannot afford the expenses and risks of litigation. It is therefore ironic that the Washington Post seeks to use the Anti-SLAPP Act to protect itself from an employment discrimination suit brought by an individual employee. The Act was not designed to discourage or punish the filing of discrimination claims by employees of media corporations, based on the internal assignment decisions of their employers.
As of June 2023, oral argument in the case has not yet been scheduled.