Journalists sue U.S. broadcasting arm for wrongful dismissal under Trump

Another of the journalists filing lawsuits is Carolina Valladares Perez, a former Middle East war correspondent who previously worked for the BBC and received high performance ratings and a bonus of US $ 4,000 for her work as a broadcast journalist for Spanish service Voice of America. Dollars earned. After USAGM failed to sponsor an extension of her visa in August 2020, she was soon fired, according to her lawsuit.

“The plaintiff has since disappeared from the radar of the news, which has had devastating consequences,” says her complaint, noting that she has only made a few thousand dollars as a freelancer since then. “With no broadcast or airtime, it was extremely difficult to find a newscaster job. Over time, the audience forgets their previous on-air presence. The plaintiff found it almost impossible to get her career going again. “

Lawsuit by Valladares Perez, which is seeking more than $ 100,000 in damages, says the firing “devastated” her career and caused “significant financial, personal and professional damage.”

The US government has not filed a formal response to the complaints and has recently asked the court to extend it.

In a statement, USAGM spokeswoman Laurie Moy said: “USAGM’s leadership has been working since January to rebuild the agency following the actions of the previous CEO. Deputy CEO [Kelu] Chao and her team are fully committed to completing this work. We have achieved a lot and continue to work to correct any outstanding errors. ”Moy declined to comment on the specific allegations in the lawsuits, but said they took the matter“ fairly seriously ”. Pack did not respond to a request for comment.

The seven journalists passed full security and background checks, according to the complaints. Pack has not presented any evidence that they pose security risks to the country, the lawsuit said.

Some of the journalists suing USAGM were offered their jobs back, but others were not offered due to background investigation protocols and other requirements that were not withdrawn during the new administration. All are striving for repayments and related harm, according to one of their lawyers.

The lawsuits, which were not publicly reported, also state that the sacked journalists were not given an opportunity to defend themselves against vague allegations of unfaithfulness to the United States.

“All of this happened without USAGM ever providing the plaintiff with any formal notice or any facts supporting an allegation or allegation that the plaintiff’s performance was inadequate, that the plaintiff was untrustworthy or disloyal, or that the plaintiff was a potential spy, and without the plaintiff ever having a hearing in which [she] could refute any such allegation, ”claims Valladares Perez in his complaint.

The lawsuits filed in the US Federal Court also allege that the journalists did not receive the 15-day written notice required in their contracts and that their agent “fraudulently” backdated their termination.

The journalists have also filed complaints with the Equal Opportunities Commission alleging that the government’s actions constitute unlawful discrimination in the workplace.

“VOA journalists routinely expose themselves to great risks when doing their job covering news from around the world – often from hostile and dangerous locations,” said attorney Burt Braverman, who represents the journalists. “USAGM’s refusal to restore them to health for the losses they suffered is a real disservice to a group of loyal, dedicated professional journalists. USAGM has to do the right thing. ”

One of the lawsuits also accuses the Trump agency of silencing them in violation of the news agency’s independence.

Bricio Segovia, a former VOA journalist, claims he was retaliated against for asking questions about the visa situation to Mauricio Claver-Carone, senior director of the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Trump administration.

In the interview, Claver-Carone told Segovia that the White House appreciated the journalism of VOA journalists and that they would have a “conversation” about visa issues and hoped it would be “resolved as soon as possible.”

The lawsuit alleges that USAGM cleaned up Segovia’s story on that interview, removed his VOA tweets, and quickly deactivated his VOA online account. He was then suspended.

Pack, who had previously made documentaries for PBS, came into the job expecting to shake up the agency. However, the journalists claim that his role in examining J-1 visa applications on a case-by-case basis played a “crucial” role in the personal selection of journalists employed by the networks, breaking the journalistic firewall between the networks and their sponsoring parent have organization.

While USAGM told most of them at the time that the layoffs were in the “best interests of the government,” the lawsuits state that they were “direct, inappropriate interference by USAGM officials in the editorial and journalistic staffing decision of VOA was not reasonable ”. necessary, violated the plaintiff’s contract and violated applicable laws and regulations, including the statutory firewall. “

USAGM remains in limbo after a turbulent past year under Trump.

Although proponents of the agency had hoped Biden would give state broadcasting a priority, the White House has still not selected a person to lead it, a Senate-approved position. Amanda Bennett, the former director of VOA who resigned shortly after Pack’s arrival, is believed to be the head of the organization, according to four people familiar with the matter. One of them said her nomination could take place in the next few weeks. Bennett did not respond to a request for comment.

USAGM also didn’t elect anyone to direct VOA, the best journalistic job on state broadcasting. Three people familiar with the matter said that in late March, the White House President’s Human Resources Office prevented Steve Capus, former president of NBC News, from being appointed director of VOA. Two of the people said that the White House didn’t block him because of his merits, but instead wants anyone who eventually becomes CEO of USAGM to be able to choose their own head of VOA. A White House spokesman declined to comment and Capus did not respond to a request for comment.

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