Judith Barrigas is suing the United States of America, radio host Howard Stern and the Howard Stern Production Company on grounds of unlawful invasion of privacy and negligence, among other things.
From the Washington Post:
Judith Barrigas had a question about her taxes, so she called the IRS.
The agency’s switchboard connected her with Agent Jimmy Forsyth. They spoke for almost 45 minutes on May 19, 2015, about a potential misapplication of her tax refund in 2014. It appeared the agency had applied her refund to outstanding liabilities from 2011 and 2012, even though she already had a repayment agreement in place.
Before taking Barrigas’s call, Agent Forsyth had called into the “The Howard Stern Show,” a long-running talk show airing on Sirius XM satellite radio. The show often attempts to mine anything off-kilter (some, perhaps many, would say in poor taste) for laughs, from men faking orgasms with attractive women to having famous sportscasters prank call small market sports shows.
It’s unclear why, exactly, Forsyth had called into the show. He was placed on hold by a producer and remained in that limbo when he took Barrigas’s call on a different line.
Only, something happened. Perhaps the lines got crossed, or perhaps he used two different phones and the first picked up audio from the second. Either way, the producers at “The Howard Stern Show” found themselves listening to the private call between Forsyth and Barrigas.
Then, according to the complaint filed on Monday in Massachusetts District Court in Boston, they aired it.
“As soon as I heard of this information I just started to quiver, and had what I would call an out-of-body experience,” she told WBZ at the time. “I couldn’t believe it. At first I thought it was a joke.”
She said the IRS informed her this indeed happened, but not until it was reported by local media, despite her many calls to the agency.
In the call Howard Stern can be heard yelling “Jimmy!” seemingly in an attempt to get the IRS agent’s attention, while co-host Robin Quivers says, “If he’s working we can’t interrupt him.”
Howard Stern has not made any comment yet regarding the lawsuit. It is estimated that the call may have been broadcast to as many as 1.2 million listeners. While on the phone with Agent Forsythe, Judith Barrigas started receiving anonymous phone calls and text messages informing her that her phone number had been aired on Stern’s show.
She is suing the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act and for an unlawful disclosure of her tax return.
But she’s also asserting negligence and an invasion of her privacy against Stern and his show.