Photographer sues New York Times over age discrimination and 'full-time freelancer' status
|Photo by Haxorjoe|
The New York Times and its photography director Michele McNally have been hit with a lawsuit by former Times' photographer Robert Stolarik. The lawsuit claims that Stolarik, age 48, was discriminated against due to his age, and was also misclassified as a 'full-time freelancer' for nearly a decade.
According to the complaint—which was filed on July 6th in New York and covered at that time by Bloomberg BNA—Stolarik began working for the Times as a photographer in Colombia in 2000, followed by additional work in Venezuela until 2002. Stolarik then resumed working for the Times in 2004, the legal document explains, ultimately resulting in nearly a decade of full-time work.
However, despite working full-time, the lawsuit claims that Stolarik was paid under a 1099-MISC form as a freelancer—a classification that deprived Stolarik of the benefits that would have come with full-time employment, including health insurance.
The complaint alleges that editors managed Stolarik in the same manner as employees, including giving specific start times for his assignments which regularly comprised 8-hour shifts. Stolarik claims that he was denied overtime pay for extended shifts and that he was not compensated for the time he was required to spend editing photos outside of his assignment hours.
The allegations continue from there, claiming that Stolarik 'regularly sought' a staff photographer position with the NYT, making his desires known both in writing and orally. Age discrimination allegedly prevented him from getting a full-time role with the company, though. The complaint states that "Stolarik was told on numerous occasions by various editors that he was too old" to get the staff position he sought.
One Times editor is accused of having asked Stolarik if he was under 30 years old, abandoning an effort to get him a staff position after learning that he was, at the time, 37. Another editor reportedly told Stolarik that he should be 'concerned about' his age in regards to his desire for a staff position, telling him on multiple occasions that he was too old to be an employee.
During his years spent freelancing for the Times, the lawsuit states that Stolarik's requests for a staff role were ignored in favor of hiring photographers who were under the age of 30. The lawsuit also claims that the Times regularly gave assignments to its freelancers under the age of 30 versus its freelancers over the age of 30.
Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that the Times denied Stolarik assignments due to a wrongful arrest he suffered in the Bronx while on assignment for the company. Per the complaint, an NYPD officer had ordered Stolarik to stop taking photographs. The altercation resulted in Stolarik's 'violent arrest,' which snowballed into the Times' alleged decision to decrease the photographer's assignments with the company.
Finally, the lawsuit also states that Stolarik's lawyer sent a letter to the Times' general counsel claiming that he had been discriminated against due to the arrest he suffered while on assignment, as well as his age. This complaint allegedly resulted in McNally ordering Times editors to stop giving Stolarik assignments altogether.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks back pay, unpaid wages, overtime pay, and unpaid benefits in actual damages totaling at least $500,000, as well as compensatory damages, interest, costs and disbursements.
As Ramin Talaie points out on Medium, this lawsuit serves to highlight growing issues with the so-called 'gig economy,' which classifies workers as independent contractors despite work arrangements that may mirror that of employees. The classification gives companies a way to save money, but saddles the worker with self-employment tax while eliminating the protections and benefits that come from employee classification.
The full complaint can be read here.
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