A reporter who wins the Pulitzer Prize normally could expect to be rewarded with plum assignments, salary increases and relief from the pressures of daily deadlines in return for bringing glory to the newspaper. Tamar Stieber, a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal North, might reasonably have anticipated the same when she won journalism's most prestigious award in 1990.
Instead, she is fighting a particularly ugly sex discrimination suit against her employer that has put her entire journalistic future in jeopardy.
Although Stieber was the first New Mexico newspaper reporter to win the Pulitzer, her achievement has been minimized by the Journal, and every aspect of her personal life has been probed by their attorneys. One lawyer familiar with the case—which is scheduled to go on trial May 9—has described the tactics as "Rambo litigation."
Witnesses who have been deposed by Journal lawyers in recent weeks have been questioned in detail about everything from Stieber's love life and sexual history—as well as their own—to her alleged drug use, in an effort to elicit damaging information about her.
Two therapists who have treated her were forced to reveal intimate information about childhood traumas and other private matters that she discussed in therapy. The defense attorneys have even suggested that she filed the gender discrimination suit because she simply doesn't like men…
Sherry Robinson, a former Journal reporter, had never spoken to Stieber before this case was brought. She was questioned for four hours.
"From what I know, I think this is going to be one of the dirtiest trials anyone has seen in New Mexico in a long time," she says. "The Journal has shown it is willing to be ruthless and vicious. It has done everything it can to frighten off Tamar, her witnesses and any employees who might harbor similar desires."
Stieber spoke with litigants in a sex discrimination case filed by women reporters at the New York Times before pursuing her own case. She says she was warned then that "they will accuse you of everything from Communism to mopery."
That has proved to be true. "This is just like a rape case," she said Sunday in her Santa Fe apartment. "My personal life is on trial."
This year marks SFR's 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. Stieber's lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge and she lost an appeal in 1997.