By The Mirror Contributor EVAN GAHR
The Washington Post is feverishly fighting a discrimination lawsuit that claims it purged dozens of older blacks from its ranks, leaving management on the business side of the paper virtually all-white.
In sworn affidavits to support plaintiff David DeJesus, an advertising account manager who has worked there for the past 22 years, three black ex-Posties claim they were pushed out of the paper as it schemed to oust older mostly black workers to save money. They describe a poisonous atmosphere at the paper — including racist jokes, favoritism toward whites and even segregated seating.
The affidavits “attest to the Post‘s discriminatory patterns and practice, mistreating and forcing out African American and older employees in a systematic effort to replace them with young, less experienced white individuals at cheaper wages,” contend lawyers for DeJesus.
But the paper, whose news pages and opinion section are awash with articles that call tea party activists racist, refuses to cover the lawsuit. WaPo lambasts everyone from Saturday Night Live to Silicon Valley for employing insufficient numbers of blacks, but spokespeople declined to provide stats about its own workforce “diversity.”
“We don’t release numbers like that,” says WaPo communications director Kristine Coratti, herself accused in court papers of putting the squeeze on an older black employee.
Raised by a single mother in the notorious Chicago public housing projects, DeJesus (pictured here) told The Daily Caller that steering clear of criminals and assorted hooligans in his youth proved excellent preparation for battling WaPo.
“My life experiences growing up on Chicago’s South Side, dodging gangs and bad people, my mom being on welfare while she put us through Catholic school to get a ‘good education’ so we could make something of ourselves, and countless more experiences have made me well prepared for what I’m dealing with now,” he said.
DeJesus, a black evangelical Christian, has won “numerous significant awards for his sales performance, achievements and for meeting and/or exceeding sales quotas,” the lawsuit says.
But in 2011, a white supervisor named Noelle Wainwright abruptly fired him for alleged insubordination. Claiming that DeJesus had provided a WaPo advertising study to a client without her permission, Wainwright stormed into DeJesus’s cubicle and said he was “shoveling a pile of sh*t at her feet,” the suit says.
Shocked by his dismissal, DeJesus penned a heartfelt email to then-WaPo company chairman Don Graham, who refused to intervene even though he knew DeJesus personally.
Next, DeJesus filed a grievance with the Newspaper Guild union.
The arbitrator ruled on Feb. 1, 2013 that DeJesus was not guilty of insubordination, that WaPo had no legitimate reason to fire him and that the paper violated its own requirement for “progressive discipline” of employees before dismissal.
He was reinstated to his job. But when DeJesus reported for work the next month, he was forced to wait in the lobby for 30 minutes like a food delivery person before finally being allowed upstairs. He was also allegedly shunted off to the least desirable accounts.
In July of 2013, DeJesus, now 62, sued WaPo in Washington, D.C. federal district court for race and age discrimination, seeking back pay and punitive damages. Federal law prohibits age discrimination against anyone over 40.
Next, Graham asked his lawyer to try to settle the case.
But after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos purchased the newspaper from the Grahams, settlement talks with a federal magistrate in November, 2013 faltered. Depositions and discovery followed. After more than a year of legal wrangling, WaPo late last year filed a motion for summary judgment in its favor.
WaPo and DeJesus await a judge’s ruling on the Post‘s motions for summary judgment and exclusion of one of the affidavits.
WaPo declined to formally comment for this story despite requests placed to Publisher Fred Ryan, who did not respond to inquiries.
Executive Editor Marty Baron told this reporter in October 2013 not to ask him anymore questions about this. A Bezos’ spokesperson also did not return a request for comment.
When I tried to get former WaPo publisher Katharine Weymouth on the horn, the operator said there was no listing for her. Which would make a ton of sense because she no longer worked there. Still, I got the automated system and left a message on her voicemail.
NEXT PAGE: WaPo attorneys: DeJesus fired for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons
The paper’s high-power attorneys at Jones Day insist that DeJesus was fired for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, namely insubordination. “Summary judgment is appropriate because there is no evidence of any race or age discrimination,” the 56-page motion argued.
But why fire someone without warning if he had consistently received excellent reviews?
WaPo contended all those positive performance reviews he received from Wainwright are actually proof that she is not prejudiced.
Wainwright, who left WaPo shortly after stories about the lawsuit emerged, did not reply to an email also cced to her new bosses at the payroll company ADP.
DeJesus asserts that discrimination at the paper is rampant. He claims 47 out of the 56 of the employees forced to take buyouts in lieu of dismissal between 2009 and 2011 were blacks over 40. One was older than 40 and Latino. Most were ousted from the advertising department, and some IT.
All but one of the 11 people fired from WaPo‘s advertising department were either minorities or over 40.
The racial purge was allegedly set in motion when Katharine Weymouth, granddaughter of legendary WaPo doyenne Katherine Graham, became publisher in 2008. With revenues plunging she struggled to cut costs.
“In 2008, Katherine Weymouth took over as publisher,” David Jones, an over 40 black ex-Postie, says in his affidavit. “She jumped to the helm and took the cockpit of a plane (The Post) while it was going down.”
With Wainwright “hired to do a hatchet job,” he alleges, “senior managers were targeted for elimination so the Post could replace them with younger individuals for less money. I saw it happen to David DeJesus and many seniors and individuals of color.”
Jones claims he was pushed out of his communications department job in part because his white boss, Corrati, acted “vindictive” toward him. Jones says that when he left the paper in 2010 “there were no other senior managers or managers of color on the business side. I was the last manager left.”
Corrati said Jones’s allegations about her are “absolutely untrue.”
Pressed further, she hung up.
Jeanette Strange, who worked for the WaPo advertising department for 10 years until they made her so “miserable” she quit, echoes Jones’s charges that WaPo pushed out blacks after Weymouth took over.
“The Post was phasing African Americans out too, across the board, and particularly upper level positions,” she said in a sworn affidavit. “The Post only allowed African Americans to remain in the lower level positions of collection, circulation and secretarial.”
But the most explosive affidavit, replete with the charges of racist slights, verbal abuse and an orchestrated effort to fire older blacks was filed Nov. 30, 2014 by Arisha Hawkins, identified as “an African American female over the age of 40.”
Hawkins says she started WaPo as an ad account rep in 2002 and rose through the ranks until she was tasked with managing service reps in 2010.
She was “immediately struck” by how “segregated and racially divided the floor had been organized,” she wrote. “All the African American service representatives sat in a clump in the middle like servants, and their white counterparts (the sales representatives they supported) were in cubes around the perimeter.”
The floor was de-segregated. But the poisonous racial atmosphere continued, she alleges.
Hawkins claims that WaPo sales director Ethan Selzer made “racially offensive” remarks about black employees, like telling one woman to clean the department kitchen.
Hawkins claims Selzer yelled and cursed at her and even made racist jokes about her own husband. Overall, he “seemed to search for ways to get rid of minority employees that he did not like.”
Selzer, who answered “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” to question after question in his depositions, declined comment.
Hawkins says even after DeJesus was fired in 2011, WaPo continued scheming to “get rid of minority and older employees.” Consequently, “the number of black managers [in advertising] has diminished to virtually zero in recent years.”
Maybe Hawkins, who says she left the Post after taking medical leave because of all the abuse, should try to get a job with Saturday Night Live so the paper takes her more seriously.
This is noteworthy: WaPo is currently trying to get the judge assigned to the lawsuit to strike this black woman’s allegations from the record. The paper claims it should have been given advance notice she was a potential witness. Her claims are either inadmissible or irrelevant, court docs say.
“Ms. Hawkins’s affidavit contains many statements that are inadmissible and nothing about her testimony is relevant to the sole issue in the case—whether the Post engaged in race and age discrimination when it discharged Plaintiff,” says WaPo‘s Jan. 2, 2015 motion to strike the affidavit.
NEXT PAGE: No coverage of the lawsuit in the pages of The Washington Post
Allegations of racial harassment, discrimination, and a lack in diversity at one of Washington’s most powerful institutions sound like an ideal story for WaPo.
Indeed, the Post published an article by race activist/reporter Wesley Lowery about a race discrimination lawsuit against McDonald’s that deems the company responsible for alleged acts of discrimination by three independently operated Virginia franchises.
The Post has, however, chosen to ignore the DeJesus lawsuit in its pages.
Lowery, who has complained loudly that Politico does not employ blacks, told this reporter that he would ignore the race discrimination lawsuit because, “I don’t cover media. I cover issues of race.”
So a race discrimination lawsuit does not raise issues of race?
“You’re not my editor,” Lowery snapped. “I don’t take story assignments from you.”
But Wesley, don’t be so testy. Think of the bright side: since you’re half white you could escape WaPo‘s next racial purge.
Lowery subsequently likened this reporter’s inquiries to a witch hunt. A curious charge since he has made a career out of racial witch hunts of the Ferguson police force, Politico and American society.
WaPo media reporter Paul Farhi, who has been castigating Saturday Night Live since at least 2008 for giving blacks short shrift, also hung up when asked why he refuses to cover the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, DeJesus, ostracized by WaPo management and treated like a non-person by the news side, says his faith gives him the necessary sustenance to persevere.
“I don’t feel extraordinary, just blessed that I can call on God,” he said. “Sometimes I just wish I could close my eyes and blink this all away. But I think God has another plan.”