The Washington Post is being sued for age and race discrimination by a longtime black advertisement department employee who was abruptly fired and replaced with a younger white man in what the lawsuit suggests was part of a larger effort by the paper to push out older black workers.
Sounds sinister, but in the federal lawsuit, which has not been reported anywhere else, David DeJesus, 59, does not actually allege any overtly discriminatory behavior by his boss, such as racial slurs or derogatory comments based on his age.
But thanks to the expansive interpretation of civil rights laws that the Post has long encouraged on its opinion and news pages it is possible for plaintiffs to “prove” discrimination based on inference alone.
Well, well. The chickens have come home to roost on 15th Street in downtown Washington.
There is no question that DeJesus was mistreated by his employer. But is he a victim of discrimination? Or just an unhinged boss, who the lawsuit says burst into his cubicle area one day screaming about his alleged insubordination?
“The Washington Post may be the victim of a lawsuit that has no merit,” says Marc Stern, an expert on employment law at the American Jewish Committee. “He [DeJesus] may or may not have been the victim of discrimination. I have no way of knowing.”
But even though no overtly discriminatory acts were alleged, “these kind of lawsuits are an entirely legitimate way to smoke out discrimination and force an employer to think twice before they fire someone.”
Stern says that if the facts are as reported, DeJesus has probably established a “prima facie” case of discrimination because he was replaced by a younger white man. Now, the Washington Post needs to show it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing him.
As well it should, he argues. Stern says it would be unrealistic in an age when racial slurs are no longer routine to expect everyone who alleges discrimination to have a smoking gun.
Still, the lawsuit’s claims of discrimination sound like assertions not arguments. He got fired. He’s black. They replaced him with a younger white guy. And they fired a whole bunch of older blacks. Therefore the Washington Post is racist and ageist.