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‘Wall Street Journal’ sued by star reporter for discrimination

The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> is being sued by former reporter Stephanie Armour, who covered health policy and COVID-19. She alleges she was targeted because of a disability.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
The Wall Street Journal is being sued by former reporter Stephanie Armour, who covered health policy and COVID-19. She alleges she was targeted because of a disability.

A disability discrimination lawsuit filed Tuesday by a veteran reporter who left the Wall Street Journal in late spring accuses the paper of seeking to shed staffers who incur significant health care costs by invoking “trumped up performance issues.”

The suit, from former Journal health care reporter Stephanie Armour, follows waves of layoffs directed by Editor in Chief Emma Tucker at a time when the corporate parent News Corp says the paper has enjoyed several years of record profits. The Journal has laid off dozens of journalists from its Washington bureau, national news team, its standards unit and overseas, among other areas.

Armour, one of the paper’s lead reporters on the pandemic, left in May and subsequently took a job with KFF Health News. (KFF Health News has a reporting partnership with NPR.)

“I believe that The Wall Street Journal, in this instance and perhaps in others, trumped up fraudulent false performance metrics and assessments as a means to fire an individual who had seniority, who was relatively well-paid and who had accommodations,” says Rob Housman, Armour’s attorney. “It seems to me that that's the pattern that's occurring with this case and potentially - probably - with others.”

Former <em>Wall Street Journal</em> health care reporter Stephanie Armour.
/ Stephanie Armour
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Stephanie Armour
Former Wall Street Journal health care reporter Stephanie Armour.

A spokesperson for The Wall Street Journal said: "The complaint is filled with baseless allegations, and the legal claims are entirely without merit. We will vigorously fight this lawsuit."

In an article posted earlier this month, Tucker told Vanity Fair that she was brought in from a sister paper, the Times of London, to revamp the Journal.

“The corporate landscape is littered with companies that didn’t make the changes they needed to make,” she said. “So I’m just like, Let’s do it now.” Tucker pushed back on the idea she had embarked on mass layoffs.

Disagreements about remote work

Armour’s suit contends that because the newspaper “self-insures,” the company achieves dual savings by laying off people with relatively high salaries who rack up significant medical costs.

According to her court filing, Armour had been allowed to work from home several days a week to help her manage post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder, both of which constitute disabilities under D.C. human rights law. She also had been authorized to do so, her suit says, at USA Today and Bloomberg News, where she previously had been a reporter.

She alleges that in 2015, a dispute with her editor, Janet Adamy, over a story resulted in retribution. According to the lawsuit, Adamy told Armour she could no longer work at home, despite Armour’s protestations that it was an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Armour filed a formal request to work from home two days a week, which the paper granted. Adamy continued to take retribution, she alleges; Armour’s suit cites a former supervisor who emailed her saying Adamy “clearly still has a bone to pick about your working from home, which is ridiculous and stupid considering how productive you are.” (Editing jobs, Armour alleges, proved unavailable to her, as bosses cited her work arrangements.)

She says she was reassigned to other editors and allowed to work from home three days a week — which became full-time after the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. To cover the pandemic, she states she “continuously worked seven days a week, nearly 24 hours a day, for a period of two years.”

In this time, the paper nominated her for Pulitzer Prizes twice, she received a performance bonus, and received accolades from her supervisor, the suit says. As the Journal dialed back its remote work policy in 2022, she returned to the office one or two days a week.

Tucker, the paper’s editor-in-chief, was appointed in early 2023. In early 2024, she named a new Washington bureau chief, Damian Paletta. Adamy, Armour’s former supervisor, was made deputy. Former Washington bureau chief Paul Beckett had been reassigned after refusing to implement job cuts, according to a former colleague.

They pressured Armour to report for work three days a week, consistent with larger Journal policy, she says in the lawsuit.

In April, the paper’s human resources division formally granted her new request for additional remote work accommodations. Nine days later, according to the suit, Paletta placed her on a formal performance warning, a step in the termination for cause process. Among the requirements during her 30-day review period: produce a scoop a week. “No reporter produces a scoop a week — none,” the lawsuit contends.

Armour filed a grievance with the union. She says she was being set up to fail, and resigned, securing the job with KFF. The grievance was dropped when she left the Journal, according to her lawyer.

More disciplinary reviews

Before leaving the paper, Armour was the representative of the Journal’s newsroom on the union’s board of directors. In the court documents, Armour says the treatment she alleges was aimed at her was also directed at other veteran journalists.

“Ms. Armour (then a union board member) heard well-informed word that the WSJ was planning to use trumped up performance issues to target union-protected high-wage employees with high health costs/accommodations for termination,” the suit states.

Others targeted, according to the suit, include “a senior reporter who had just taken medical leave; a disabled veteran and reporter who had taken paternity leave and whose leave was mentioned in his performance improvement plan; and, a multiple award-winning reporter who had high medical costs due to a heart condition.” Combat veteran Ben Kesling was laid off from his job as a reporter there earlier this year.

The paper’s lead union says such disciplinary reviews are accelerating.

“They are running at about a two-to-one clip for 2024 compared to 2023,” says Timothy Martell, executive director of the union representing nearly 400 members of The Wall Street Journal’s newsroom, the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, or IAPE, 1096.

Martell says 39 members of its union, which includes other newsrooms within News Corp.’s Dow Jones units, were summoned to investigatory or disciplinary meetings last year. As of the first six months of this year, 32 union-represented employees had been similarly summoned.

“What concerns us is the escalation,” Martell says. “To have a doubling of anything in the IAPE-Dow Jones relationship, is something we are going to pay attention to, even if we were to acknowledge that every one of the disciplinary summons was legitimate - and I don’t.”

“After we have a record financial performance, we have twice as many people on track for performance warnings? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Corrected: July 9, 2024 at 4:50 PM EDT
A previous version of this story included an incorrect figure for how many Wall Street Journal employees faced disciplinary hearings in 2023, based on statistics provided by the newsroom union. The union has now given NPR revised statistics stating that 39 employees did that year.
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