Former senior New York Post journalist Michelle Gotthelf has launched legal action accusing the tabloid’s longtime editor-in-chief, Col Allan, of sexually harassing and verbally abusing her, including propositioning her for sex.
In a complaint filed in the US federal court system on Tuesday, Gotthelf accused the Post’s owner, News Corp, Allan and the paper’s current editor-in-chief, Keith Poole, of breaching New York employment law by discriminating against her on the basis of her sex and retaliating against her when she complained.
She also claimed Allan intervened in coverage of Donald Trump, demanding a story about the then president being accused of rape be removed from the paper’s website and calling the complaint “baseless shit”.
Allan is an Australian who was formerly editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph in Sydney while Poole is an Englishman who has held senior roles at the Sun and Daily Mail.
Gotthelf said Poole fired her last week, ending her 20-year career at News Corp.
She said she suffered “severe mental anguish and emotional distress, including, but not limited to, humiliation, embarrassment, stress and anxiety,” and is seeking damages from News Corp, Allan and Poole.
In her complaint, filed with the district court for the southern district of New York, she made allegations of misconduct against Allan that date back to 2007, when she alleged she was passed over for a promotion from deputy metro editor to metro editor in 2007 because Allan said he “wanted a strong man in the job”.
Allan “instead promoted a substantially less qualified man” who “had little, if any, experience in non-business news and no experience running a newsroom”, Gotthelf claims.
She said that from 2013 Allan had created a hostile work environment for her despite describing her as a “star”.
“Mr Allan delighted in degrading Ms Gotthelf, and women generally, in front of her mostly male peers,” she alleged in the complaint.
“For example, Mr Allan would refer to women in news stories as ‘skanks’ or ‘stupid women.’ He described a female NY Post editor as a ‘sneaky lesbian.’ He likewise told Ms Gotthelf that Mr Murdoch ‘doesn’t like many women’.”
She alleged Allan also “despised the LGBTQ+ community”.
“For instance, he refused to put New York’s historic legalization of same-sex marriage on the front page, asking, ‘What will these people be marrying next, animals?’”
She claimed when she complained to her boss, he “acknowledged the abuse but shrugged, ‘Not much I can do.’”
The sexual harassment allegedly peaked in 2015 when she alleged Allan propositioned her for sex, saying “We should sleep together”.
Her rejection allegedly resulted in Allan becoming more abusive, refusing to make eye contact with her and scrapping her articles for no apparent reason.
“On one occasion, he ripped up a list of stories that Ms Gotthelf had prepared and screamed at her to ‘get the fuck out’,” according to her complaint.
She said she complained to HR, which she claims resulted in Allan being forced to “retire” from the paper after he was told of the complaint, despite the company’s promise it would be kept confidential.
In early 2019, Allan was rehired as a newsroom consultant.
Gotthelf said she negotiated a new employment contract in which News had promised she would not have to report to Allan, but she said this proved to be a “hollow” promise.
“Not only was Mr Allan giving Ms Gotthelf directions, but he was also becoming more threatening and abusive,” she alleged.
He allegedly ordered her to remove a June 2019 story in which a woman accused Donald Trump of raping her, calling the woman’s claims “baseless shit” and describing her as “the world[’s] unluckiest woman or a liar”.
She said she complained to News Corp chief executive, Robert Thomson, and head of HR, Dana Ritzcovan, and was told that if Allan “tells you to do something, you do it”.
She claimed she was effectively demoted in January when Poole was made editor-in-chief and her direct reporting line to the publisher was removed.
Ahead of the appointment she met with Poole for lunch. Poole allegedly did not discuss her impending contract renewal but instead focused on asking about what “happened between you and Col”, she alleges.
“Ms Gotthelf explained that Mr Allan had sexually propositioned her and that she did not want to go through that again,” she alleges in the complaint.
“On January 12, 2022, only two months later, Mr Poole fired Ms Gotthelf without cause.”
Gotthelf’s departure was announced to staff in an email sent on Tuesday.
“I wanted to let you know that Michelle Gotthelf has departed The Post, effective January 15,” Poole said in the email, which was provided to Guardian Australia by a News Corp spokesperson on Wednesday.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank her for all she has done during her 20-plus-year tenure here, and I hope you will join me in wishing her the best for the future.”
In a separate statement, the News Corp spokesperson said: “Any suggestion of wrongdoing related to the management changes announced today is meritless.”
She said Poole had no additional comment to make and she did not have contact information for Allan. Guardian Australia has been unable to contact Allan for comment.
The defendants have yet to file a defence.