Howard Stern and the IRS Sued — Together?
This strange brew of co-defendants began when an IRS agent called into The Howard Stern Show but was put on hold by a producer. While on hold, the agent took a taxpayer’s call on a different line. That taxpayer was Judith Barrigas who ended up suing the Howard Stern Production Company and the IRS for airing her phone call.
For those who don’t know much about The Howard Stern Show, it is a long-running radio talk show airing on Sirius XM Satellite radio. The host of the show, Howard Stern, is one of the highest paid and most controversial radio figures in recent years. For laughs he often attempts to air anything that is unconventional or offbeat — many would say in poor taste. Once Stern organized the “Tiger Wood Mistress Beauty Pageant” in the studio. He also aired amusing comments about the “really good-looking girls running” from the Columbine High School gunman after the shooting. You get the idea — controversial comments.
It is unknown why IRS Agent Jimmy Forsyth called into the show during work hours and why he tried to take a taxpayer’s call while on hold with the show. Howard Stern picked up the call at one point and liked what he heard. So, hearing something unique, Stern kept broadcasting the conversation between the agent and the taxpayer to 1.2 million listeners. Agent Forsyth and Ms. Barrigas spoke for almost 45 minutes about a potential misapplication of her 2014 tax refund. It appeared that the IRS had applied her refund to outstanding liabilities for 2011 and 2012, even though she already had a payment plan in place — not exactly shocking content.
Seemingly in an attempt to get the IRS agent’s attention, in the aired clip Stern yelled “Jimmy!” while co-host Robin Quivers said, “If he’s working we can’t interrupt him.”
During her call with Agent Forsyth, Ms. Barrigas began receiving phone calls and text messages from unknown numbers, informing her that her personal information and phone number were being aired on the Howard Stern Show. A big lawsuit for invasion of privacy and other claims seemed inevitable.
In a Massachusetts Federal court, Ms. Barrigas sued the IRS, Howard Stern, and his production company for unlawful invasion of privacy, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and more. She seeks both compensatory and punitive damages along with “reasonable attorney’s fees.”
IRS Publication 1 provides that you have many rights as a taxpayer, including a right to privacy and confidentiality about tax matters. Specifically, Section 7431 of the tax code allows for lawsuits if the government discloses your information.
According to the complaint filed at court, the IRS placed Agent Forsythe on administrative leave. The IRS has stated that, “We are aware of this troubling situation, and we are currently reviewing the matter. The IRS takes the confidentiality of taxpayer information very seriously, and we have high standards that we expect and require employees to follow.”
Be sure to keep your tax information private. Should you have any concerns about your tax situation, call the Sodowsky Law Firm at 703.968.8000, or email us at email@example.com. — Sammy Kim