Taxpayer sues Howard Stern over IRS phone call broadcast
A taxpayer whose private call with an Internal Revenue Service employee inadvertently aired live on Howard Stern’s Sirius XM radio show is now suing the shock jock, along with the federal government.
Judith Barrigas, a taxpayer from Sandwich, Mass., called the IRS service center in May 2015 with a question about her tax refund. She reached IRS agent Jimmy Forsythe, who was on the other line calling into Stern’s radio show. Somehow the lines got crossed and listeners heard Forsythe’s conversation with Barrigas, while Stern and his co-host Robin Quivers joked about the call concerning Barrigas’s payment plan (see Howard Stern airs taxpayer phone call to IRS). The IRS had applied Barrigas’s tax refund to pay her outstanding debts from 2011 and 2012, even though she complained she already had a repayment plan set up with the Service.
“I’m learning so much,” said Stern. “I feel like I’m in math class and I’m flunking because I don’t know one thing he’s saying. I think I’m going to bail on this guy. By the way, this is the most boring job ever. I’d rather live in my parent’s basement if I had to do that. I’d give out all the wrong information. All right, dude, later!”
Stern began yelling, “Jimmy!” to try to get the IRS employee’s attention, but Forsythe couldn’t hear him. Quivers told Stern, “If he’s working, we can’t interrupt him.”
Barrigas spoke with Forsythe for 45 minutes about a potential misapplication of her tax refund, according to the New York Post, although only a short portion of the call aired on satellite radio before Stern disconnected it.
Barrigas’s phone number was announced during the call, and some of Stern’s listeners tried calling and texting her to let her know about her private call being aired. She filed suit Monday against Stern and his program for invasion of privacy and negligence, claiming the incident led to difficulty sleeping and eating. She also claimed she has “had difficulty finding employment in her field, as the wide airing and publication of her private tax matter has affected her employment search negatively.”
She is also suing the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act for unlawful disclosure of her tax return, according to the Hollywood Reporter, which has posted the full complaint. The complaint names the IRS as the relevant agency, accusing it of violating a section of the tax code that prohibits dissemination of tax returns and the personal information of a taxpayer, and for negligence and intentional torts.
The Stern show and his agent's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.