Howard Stern just earned a victory in court.
In 2017, Judith Barrigas filed a lawsuit against the infamous shock jock after her private phone call with an IRS agent was broadcasted live on an episode of the Howard Stern Show. Barrigas claimed that the incident was an invasion of her privacy, so she sued Stern and the U.S. government for negligence and the unlawful disclosure of tax information, respectively.
It seemed like the plaintiff had a pretty solid case, as Section 7431 of the Internal Revenue Code states: “If any person who is not an officer or employee of the United States knowingly, or by reason of negligence, inspects or discloses any return or return information with respect to a taxpayer […] such taxpayer may bring a civil action for damages against such person in a district court of the United States.”
But according to the Hollywood Reporter, a Massachusetts federal judge ruled in favor of the IRS and controversial radio host on Friday, explaining that the broadcasted phone conversation was not “sufficiently personal or intimate in nature.”
So, what happened exactly? Well, on May 19, 2015, IRS agent Jimmy Forsythe called the Howard Stern Show. After the show’s producers had put him on hold, Forsythe returned to his phone conversation with Barrigas, who had reached out to discuss an issue with her taxes. It’s unclear how it happened, but when producers took Forsythe off hold, his call with Barrigas was picked up on air. The Hollywood Reporter relayed the first parts of the aired conversation:
“Jimmy, go ahead,” said Stern that day. “You're on the air in Long Island...Jimmy?”
“$71 due on the 20th,” said Forsyth.
“Jimmy, you're on the f—ing air,” exclaimed Stern.
“What is he doing?” asked Stern's co-host Robin Quivers. “Making a transaction?”
The discussion was broadcasted for several minutes. Audience members heard Barrigas’ tax details as well as other personal information, such as her phone number.
Unsurprisingly, Barrigas’ phone was immediately slammed with countless phone calls and text messages from people informing her about the live broadcast. She later claimed that the incident caused severe emotional harm and resulted in anxiety, the loss of sleep and appetite, as well as lost wages. Barrigas also said that her newfound notoriety made it difficult to secure a job.