Media Watch: NYT Racism

Here is one story you may not find in the New York Times. Last fall, the nation's newspaper of record fired Angela Dodson -- its only senior editor who was both female and African-American -- and now Dodson has slapped the Times with a discrimination suit. In a complaint filed with New York City's Human Rights Commission, Dodson charges that top Times managers discriminated against her on the basis of race, gender, and disability (she suffered from hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries). A one-time copy editor, Dodson edited the Living section before being promoted to the prestigious post of Style Department editor in 1991. But Dodson says Times managers merely gave her the job's title and little of its authority. Then-executive editor Max Frankel and then-managing editor Joseph Lelyveld excluded Dodson from meetings, lunches, trips, and trainings that her job description required her to attend, according to Dodson's complaint. While her subordinates met with her supervisors, Dodson was left out of the loop. "The Times discriminated against me on the basis of my race," her complaint alleges, "by treating me as less competent than my white employees." In 1992, Dodson acquired an even more lofty title when she became a senior editor. But Dodson charges that during her tenure in that job her supervisors were "inappropriately inquiring into my personal family matters ... and continuously making derogatory, baseless comments to me which implied that my parenting and housekeeping skills were less than competent." Severe carpal tunnel syndrome and hypertension forced Dodson to take a 13-month leave of absence starting in the middle of 1994. When she tried to return, top managers told Dodson that her job no longer existed. The irony that the Times -- a paper with a long history of publishing pro-affirmative action editorials -- is being accused of discrimination has not gone unnoticed. The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid, slammed the Times for hypocrisy when it broke the story last month. Dodson's case is attracting considerable attention. Her lawyer says that Dan Rather, Dateline NBC, and 60 Minutes have all called requesting an interview. The Times, meanwhile, refuses to talk. Vice President Nancy Nielsen would say only that the paper "categorically denies any charge of discrimination or improper treatment of Ms. Dodson." It is far too early to guess what will happen with Dodson's case, but the paper does have a history of managing to avoid potentially embarrassing trials. Two high-profile class-action discrimination suits brought against the Times in the 1970s -- one filed by female employees, the other by minorities -- were settled before trial. Although Dodson's case will most likely drag on for months, it already has produced a ripple effect. As news of her lawsuit has spread, frustrated minority and female employees at media outlets across New York have phoned Dodson's lawyer requesting representation.

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