A reporter who says she was fired from her job for writing about Tennessee’s bathroom bill is suing her former employer for $1 million.
Reporter Jacqui Helbert used to work for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s public radio station, WUTC-FM. But then she did a story about a group of Cleveland High School students trying to meet with local lawmakers Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Kevin Brooks about a proposed anti-trans bathroom bill. The bill would have forced trans students to use restrooms and locker rooms that matched the gender on their birth certificates, not their gender identities.
After the story aired earlier this month, lawmakers complained that Helbert had violated journalistic integrity by failing to identify herself as a reporter, the Times Free Press writes. But Helbert maintains that this isn’t true. On Twitter, she posted a picture of herself at the Capitol when she interviewed the lawmakers. She points out that she was carrying bulky audio equipment and wearing a press pass.
A pic of me at the Capitol with my press pass & gear cartoonishly visible has been published. Now what Sen Brooks?https://t.co/6yzzutwBwC
— Jacqui Helbert (@jacquihelbert) March 27, 2017
After the lawmakers’ complaints, Helbert’s story was removed from the station’s website and she was fired. Her story is still available here, however.
NPR released a public statement criticizing the University’s decision to fire Helbert. The statement reads, “Taking the decisions about enforcing ethics out of [WUTC’s] hands did more to undermine the station’s credibility than the original infraction.”
Why did the university fire her? Helbert says it was blackmail. She claims that GOP lawmakers were threatening to yank the university’s funding. They already did it last year to the university’s Office of Diversity over suggestions about sensitivity to LGBTQ issues.
Yesterday, the Nashville Scene writes, Helbert filed a lawsuit for “reinstatement, apology, education and training about the laws violated, lost wages, harm for the emotional distress from the retaliatory firing, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and any further relief appropriate” up to $1 million.
Herbert is furious about her termination, but touched by the public response to it. “I’m all verklempt,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m just little ol’ me.”
(Header image via Facebook)