Photojournalist Taidgh Barron said the Post put its reporters and photographers in danger when it sent them on newsgathering assignments during the pandemic without providing proper personal protective equipment, but when he complained, the tabloid unlawfully fired him, according to the complaint.
In failing to provide protective equipment to reporters and photographers covering both the pandemic and civil unrest during Black Lives Matter protests, the Post violated the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, Barron said.
Barron was hired by the Post as a staff photographer in September 2019 — a position he said was extremely competitive — and was told by his superiors that they wanted him to be a long-term employee, according to the suit. The tabloid even sent Barron to Washington, instead of hiring a freelance photographer, to help him gain experience covering the White House, with the intention of eventually assigning him 2020 election coverage, the suit states.
But in January 2020, the Post reported on the first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S. and Barron said he was assigned to cover related news.
"Barron immediately understood the gravity of the situation," the suit states. "He knew that the introduction and spread of a dangerous virus in a densely populated metropolis like NYC posed a great risk to all of its residents."
But when Barron asked his supervisor, Chris Dougherty, for personal protective equipment, his request was denied, according to the complaint. At the same time, the Post was publishing articles about the dangers of the virus, including that it can be spread by asymptomatic carriers, he said.
Barron again asked Dougherty for protective gear, but was told the Post "would not provide him with PPE of any kind," according to the suit. While the tabloid continued to report on the dangers of the virus, it continued to assign Barron to cover stories that put him at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, he said.
For example, the Post told Barron to ride the subways and take photographs of transit workers and riders, according to the complaint. He said he was also required to go to Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital to photograph new morgue construction necessitated by the pandemic and the transport of people who had died from the virus.
Barron said he was also sent to assignments where people later tested positive for COVID-19, including interviewing and photographing people who had been exposed to the deadly virus.
"The Post continued to put Barron at risk so he could provide firsthand coverage of the virus," the suit states.
Then, in April 2020, the Post reported that one of its sports photographers, Anthony Causi, had died from COVID-19, according to the complaint. Three days later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated that everyone in New York City wear a mask in public, Barron said.
In May 2020, Barron said he was assaulted while covering Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. But when he asked for civil unrest equipment, including press helmets, vests and eye protection, Dougherty never answered his email, Barron said.
Then in July 2020, the Post suddenly fired Barron, with the tabloid claiming it was a financial decision, according to the suit. But at the same time, Barron said the Post rehired previously furloughed entry-level reporters and hired more expensive freelance photographers to fill his place.
Barron's suit claims retaliation for whistleblowing in violation of New York labor law. It seeks compensation for back pay, front pay and benefits, compensatory and consequential damages and reinstatement with full benefits and seniority rights, as well as attorney fees and litigation costs.
"It's clear to us that the Post retaliated against Taidgh for complaining about not having PPE during the pandemic," the photographer's attorney, Alix R. Rubin of Rubin Employment Law, told Law360 on Tuesday. "He was an essential worker out on the front lines who was fired for complaining about the lack of protection."
"We hope this is a warning to other employers," she added.
The Post could not be immediately reached for comment.
Barron is represented by Alix R. Rubin of Rubin Employment Law.
Counsel information for the Post was not immediately available.
The case is Taidgh Barron v. NYP Holdings Inc., case number 153986/2021, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.
--Editing by Andrew Cohen.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from the plaintiff's attorney.
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