LOS ANGELES (CN) – A victim of a Project Veritas sting sued her employer for firing her after the right-wing activist group published a video saying she hates kids and only sells textbooks for the money.
Dianne Barrow, a former sales executive for publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, claims in a June 21 complaint that the company defamed her and fired her after two members of a right-wing group called Project Veritas filmed her making allegedly derogatory comments about the federal Common Core educational standards.
“HMH failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of statements contained in the video of plaintiff, which was full of headlines, captions, graphics overlays, illustrations and cartoon characters purporting to represent plaintiff,” the complaint, abbreviating Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “The video was edited into and/or with similarly secretly-recorded conversations with other secretly-recorded victims of Project Veritas with short segments of conversations edited to distort the true meaning of plaintiff’s actual words.”
Project Veritas is the brain-child of James O’Keefe, a conservative activist who gained notoriety in 2009 when he dressed in retro-pimp garb and purported to have gotten advice from the liberal community-organizing group Acorn on how to run a tax-free brothel for underage sex workers.
Though several outside investigators ultimately cleared Acorn of any wrongdoing — finding that O’Keefe’s sting footage had been heavily and misleadingly edited — the nonprofit had already been bankrupted at that point by a loss of its funding.
Barrow says she fell victim to Project Veritas in August 2015 when she met with two of its undercover operatives, who were posing as book buyers supportive of Common Core. Common Core is a nationwide program that attempts to standardize what students should know in terms of mathematics and language arts at each grade level.
The program is controversial in education, however, and conservatives in particular are critical of the standards initiative as federal overreach.
In the seven-and-a-half-minute video featuring Barrow, which was recorded without her knowledge, the agents ask her if she is in the business for the kids.
“I hate kids,” she says, laughing, and then says she is in the industry for the money.
Project Veritas says this is evidence that Common Core is a broad conspiracy that is more about enriching the textbook industry than providing children with a quality education.
The footage of Barrow is interspersed with video of two teachers from Brooklyn who make similar claims about Common Core being perpetrated by the textbook industry and its army of lobbyists.
Barrow says she forgot about the interview until Jan. 16 of last year, when human resources for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt called her out of a conference meeting in Florida and promptly fired her.
Days later, she told the Washington Post that her comments were misconstrued. The publisher’s CEO also issued a statement soon after the video was published.
“Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is as appalled by these comments as we expect readers will be,” CEO Linda Zecher said. “These statements in no way reflect the views of HMH and the commitment of our over 4,000 employees who dedicate their lives to serving teachers and students every day. The individual who made these comments is a former employee who was with HMH for less than a year.”
Barrow said this statement effectively affirmed the contents of the video and tarnished her character and career, when HMH had an obligation to look into the veracity of the video.
Barrow seeks punitive damages.
She is represented by Jeffrey Malek of Malek & Malek based in Torrance, California.