Fired Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez dramatically escalated her battle with her former employer this month, as her union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
The complaint alleges that the Post fired Sonmez for engaging in protected speech when she launched her Twitter campaign against the paper over its social-media policies. The very public debacle last summer—which included the suspension of one of the paper’s top political reporters, multiple reprimands from executive editor Sally Buzbee, and an eventual revamp of the policy—led to Sonmez’s firing on June 9.
The NLRB complaint, which The Daily Beast obtained and reviewed, was filed by the Washington/Baltimore News Guild on Sept. 22 but docketed on Sept. 28.
“The Washington Post discharged news reporter Felicia Sonmez due to her repeated statement’s about the Post’s working conditions and the company’s failure and refusal to fairly enforce its social media policy for employees,” read the charge, “statements which constitute protected, concerted activity under the [National Labor Relations] Act.”
The Post declined to comment. “All Guild-covered employees of the Washington Post have the right to challenge the company’s decision to discipline or terminate them, to speak out about working conditions and policies that affect all of us, and a reasonable expectation that the Post will follow both the contract it has agreed to and federal labor law,” the Post Guild said in a statement.
With a claim filed, the process now moves to an investigatory phase to determine whether it moves forward. If an investigator with the NLRB, an independent federal agency, determines the claim has merit, then the dispute moves to an official claim before an administrative judge—and therefore a trial, according to the agency’s process chart. That could lead to either a remedial action (such as Sonmez getting her job back), a dismissal, or another action approved by the court.
The filing brings the former political breaking news reporter’s quest for her job back into the public sphere. The Post’s union filed a grievance with the paper shortly after her firing, arguing it unjustly let Sonmez go. However, Politico reported last month that the Post refused to engage in arbitration, claiming it was not bound to the terms of the guild’s since-lapsed contract. The guild then sued the paper to compel it to the negotiation table for both Sonmez and media reporter Paul Farhi, who was also given a five-day suspension in March.
It’s unclear what the NLRB complaint will mean for Sonmez’s grievance process, particularly since the Post has thus far refused to arbitrate. The legal case to compel arbitration will still continue.
“The Post’s leadership must do more to support — not punish — employees who have experienced trauma. It must take action to live up to its own rhetoric on diversity and inclusion,” Sonmez said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Employees who raise concerns about these matters should not have to fear that they will be fired or that their careers will be in peril for doing so.”
The NLRB complaint is not the first time Sonmez has taken her former employer to court. Her 2021 lawsuit over WaPo management’s prohibition against her covering stories involving sexual assault (citing her status as a survivor of sexual violence) is set to continue the appeal process next month, and she recently brought on attorney Brian S. Wolfman, who runs Georgetown University’s Appellate Courts Immersion Clinic, along with Madeline Meth for her case, according to a review of the D.C. Court of Appeals docket.
“I am grateful to the Washington-Baltimore News Guild for filing this complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to ensure that the Washington Post respects its employees’ federally-protected right to speak out and shine a spotlight on working conditions at the company,” Sonmez said.