Post-Gazette sued for allegedly violating civil rights laws when barring Alexis Johnson from protest coverage | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Post-Gazette sued for allegedly violating civil rights laws when barring Alexis Johnson from protest coverage

Today, an attorney for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalist Alexis Johnson filed a civil lawsuit against the paper, alleging that the P-G violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by retaliating against someone who opposes or protests race discrimination.

Two weeks ago, Johnson, who is Black, says she was barred from protest coverage after a tweet she wrote went viral, comparing the mess typically made outside of Kenny Chesney concerts to some property damage occurring in conjunction with recent protests. She tweeted this on May 31, and then on June 1, she was told by P-G management she could not write stories relating to the protests since management told her she expressed bias, according to attorney Sam Cordes, Johnson’s lawyer who spoke to WESA.

“On the day [Johnson] was called in, which I believe was June 1st, she pitched three stories,” Cordes told WESA. “She was told, 'You can’t write these stories because you expressed an opinion about African Americans being murdered by police officers.' And that is a violation of the law.”

Since removing Johnson from protest coverage, P-G management also barred Micheal Santiago, a Black photographer, and dozens of other journalists from protest coverage since they expressed solidarity with Johnson on social media. Management also altered stories related to protests and removed bylines, according to P-G staffers who wrote the initial stories. The paper has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism and censorship. Large advertisers have pulled ads from the paper, and Giant Eagle has stopped selling papers in their grocery stores.

Cordes also noted the apparent hypocrisy of Johnson being barred from coverage, since many P-G staffers expressed opinions on social media about the Tree of Life shooting in 2018, and no journalist was ever barred from that coverage. The staff at the P-G won a Pulitzer Prize for its Tree of Life reporting.

P-G executive editor Keith Burris has denied any accusations of racism, and defended the paper’s actions in an open letter written on June 10. And on Monday night, Burris made an appearance on the Fox News program The Ingraham Angle and continued to deny any wrongdoing, saying “I think it is the power of the big lie and the mob, the Twitter mob.”
Burris then claimed on Fox News that the entire Johnson situation was “a labor dispute that was racialized.”

The lawsuit states that "[The Post-Gazette's] actions in precluding and removing Johnson from coverage of race-based protests and demonstrations in retaliation for opposing race discrimination deprived Johnson of the same right to make and enforce contracts as is enjoyed by white citizens in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. §1981."

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