Lawsuit: Woman Harassed After ‘Howard Stern Show’ Airs Her Phone Call With IRS Agent

Image courtesy of Alessandro Bonvini

You may remember the story of the Massachusetts woman who thought she was just talking to an Internal Revenue Service agent on the phone, when really, their private call — including her personal information — was being broadcast to listeners of Howard Stern’s radio show. She’s now suing both the IRS and the show.

According to the lawsuit [PDF] filed in federal court in Boston, it all started in May 2015, when the woman called the IRS to discuss a private tax matter regarding her refund.

She spent 45 minutes discussing her issue with an IRS agent — including mention of her phone number, the tax return and refund issue, and the details of a repayment plan she was enrolled in — before she “suddenly began to receive a barrage of text messages and phone calls from unknown callers/individuals,” the lawsuit says.

“The text messages were informing [the plaintiff] that her personal information and phone number was being aired live” on the show.

Unbeknownst to her, the agent had called into The Howard Stern Show as a listener, and had been hanging out on hold. Meanwhile, he was talking to her on another phone line.

Then, while the agent and the plaintiff were talking about her issues, Howard Stern and others on the program discussed the fact that they were broadcasting a private conversation between the IRS and the woman, the lawsuit says.

“Mr. Stern stated expressly on the air that the conversation involved a tax collector and was of a personal nature and was not what the caller had intended,” the complaint alleges. “Mr. Stern and The Stern Show were fully aware that they were broadcasting and disseminating [the plaintiff’s] tax and personal information,” the lawsuit adds, “yet failed to take any action to stop the broadcast.”

The lawsuit alleges that Stern and the show had “ample opportunity to avoid the publication” of her personal information, but instead, used it and her conversation with the IRS agent “as a source of amusement for their listeners.”

To add insult to injury, the show hasn’t yet taken the phone call off its website, the lawsuit claims.

As a result of that conversation going on the air, the woman claims she received hundreds of messages and phone calls from listeners, many of which were “harassing in nature and continued for many days,” the lawsuit says, leaving her in a frantic, high anxiety state.”

She says that as soon as she understood what had happened, she did everything she could to report the incident to the IRS and to The Howard Stern Show so she could get her private information removed from public access.

But although she made “numerous calls” to the IRS and spoke with the agent’s supervisor, “Inexplicably, it was not until [the plaintiff] reported the incident to the consumer helpline of WCVB-TV, a local news outlet, that any substantive action was taken by the IRS,” the lawsuit claims, after which the agent was placed on administrative leave.

An IRS special agent then contacted her and acknowledged that her private call had been aired on the show, and that the incident was under investigation.

The lawsuit claims that the show wasn’t responsive to her calls either, and continued to air the call on its website for “many weeks after the incident.”

As a result of her ordeal, the woman claims that she “has suffered and continues to suffer substantial loss of reputation; was humiliated publicly; has sustained loss of wages, earning capacity and fringe benefits; has suffered emotional distress and anguish of mind; and has suffered, and will continue to suffer, other damages as she will show at trial.”

The lawsuit claims that the defendants’ conduct “constitutes unlawful negligence” and is an invasion of privacy. As such, she wants the court to declare the defendants’ conduct an “unlawful infliction of emotional distress.” She is also seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and other costs.

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