Ex-BET Exec Defends Merits of Her Discrimination Lawsuit

Zola Mashariki says her medical leave and discrimination complaints are protected activities and she should not have been terminated.
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Zola Mashariki

BET's former head of originals is firing back at claims that she failed to adequately plead her case in a discrimination lawsuit that followed the announcement of her exit from the network.

Zola Mashariki sued BET and its parent Viacom in March, claiming the network is misogynistic and unfairly terminated her while she was on leave receiving treatment for breast cancer.

"Prior to her termination, Plaintiff complained about gender discrimination involving Defendant Stephen Hill, a notorious and repeat harasser," writes attorney Felicia Medina in a Monday court filing. "Both her medical leave and her complaints of discrimination are protected activities under the law and she should not have been terminated for availing herself of basic workplace rights."

Masharaki's complaint claims that Hill, the network's former programming president whose exit was announced at the same time as hers, subjected her to derogatory comments and intimidation. He also is named as a defendant in the suit.

She also raises concerns about pay disparity, mistreatment of women and advancement decisions.

BET moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Mashariki failed to make clear which of her allegations support which of the claims for relief she's seeking. Viacom separately asked the court to be dismissed from the suit, arguing that Mashariki failed to show the parent company is liable for her claims against the network. Meanwhile, Hill argued that he should be dismissed because two of her three claims against him must be brought against an employer, not a supervisor, and that she failed to properly plead her harassment claim against him. 

In an opposition to the motions, Medina first turns her attention to Viacom. She argues the parent company shouldn't be dismissed because Mashariki's employment agreement is signed by Viacom's human resources executive vp Scott Mills. "In that employment agreement, Viacom explicitly refers to itself as Ms. Mashariki’s employer," writes Medina. "Viacom also set the terms and conditions of Ms. Mashariki’s employment and Viacom, not BET, was the entity that terminated her while she was on protected leave."

Medina also argued that her client's allegations are clear, specifically that they're "divided by easy-to-understand subheadings that break the narrative into facts supporting each claim."

"Contrary to Defendants’ suggestions in their Motions, a complaint is not a 'shotgun pleading' simply because it re-alleges previous factual paragraphs in subsequent claims," writes Medina, adding that "[t]he detailed nature of Defendants’ motions undercuts their contention that it was 'impossible to discern' which charges had been levelled against them."

Masharaki is also suing for defamation, claiming her former employer "failed to clarify and/or mitigate false statements that [she] had been terminated because of her performance." BET argues that the statements in question were too vague to be actionable and that she failed to plead sufficient facts as to who said them to whom in what context and when. 

Medina argues the claims were sufficiently detailed and the statement at issue is demonstrably false. (Read the filing in full below.)

Mashariki has not yet filed an opposition to Hill's motion to dismiss. A hearing on the BET and Viacom motions is currently set for Aug. 14. 

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