A prominent lawyer who specialises in employment discrimination told Business Insider the New York Times may be in hot water if reports about the paper’s reasoning for firing executive editor Jill Abramson are true.
Gloria Allred, a partner at the firm of Allred Maroko Goldberg, it could have been a violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if Abramson’s decision to bring in a lawyer to discuss her belief she was paid less than her male predecessors contributed to her termination.
“If the firing was on account of the fact she protested what she perceived to be discrimination against her, then the firing is an adverse employment action and she can allege that its retaliatory for her having protested the discriminatory pay, whether through a lawyer or by herself,” Allred explained.
Allred said Title VII protects employees or job applicants who suffer “an adverse employment action (termination, demotion, harassment etc.) because they filed a charge of discrimination; because they complained to their employer about discrimination; or because they participated in an employment discrimination proceeding (such as an investigation or lawsuit).”
Allred also said it struck her as odd that a company would be upset to have a lawyer participate in salary negotiations with a high ranking employee like Abramson.
“At that level, why would it be frustrating?” she asked. “Why would it be unusual for a lawyer to be involved to negotiate the terms and conditions of a high-level employee?”
The allegation Abramson’s decision to involve lawyers in her discussions with Times management about her pay first appeared in a story by the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta.
“Bringing in a lawyer, in particular, seems to have struck them as especially combative,” Auletta wrote. “Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, argued that there was no real compensation gap, but conceded to me that ‘this incident was a contributing factor” to the firing of Abramson, because ‘it was part of a pattern.'”
Murphy subsequently took issue with Auletta’s characterization of her comments and demanded a correction. In an email to the New Yorker she wrote, “I said to you that the issue of bringing a lawyer in was part of a pattern that caused frustration. I NEVER said that it was part of a pattern that led to her firing because that is just not true.” For his part, Auletta did not correct the story, but he added an update that said Murphy’s quote as originally reported was “accurate and in context, as I’ve confirmed in my notes.”
Allred suggested the attempt to get Auletta to make a correction could be “backtracking” by the paper after executives there realised the legal “implication” of the initial account of Abramson’s firing.
“If it is what was reported the first time, it’s definitely more problematic for the Times,” said Allred.
Business Insider reached out to the Times to get their response to Allred’s assessment of Abramson’s firing and her take on their potential reasons for asking Auletta to correct his story. Murphy responded with a single sentence.
“I contacted him because he misquoted me,” she said of her email to Auletta.
Since she indicated Abramson may have grounds for a lawsuit, Business Insider asked Allred whether she had spoken with Abramson about representing her. Allred said she cannot discuss who contacts her office because it is “confidential.”
“All I could say is we’ve represented a number of high-level key employees in sex discrimination wrongful termination employment cases and I am licensed in New York,” Allred said. “Having said that, it sounds like she has a lawyer.”