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Transgender TV Personality Claims Discrimination at BET Awards

B. Scott says that when he was forced to change clothing as a fashion correspondent, it violated his right to gender identity and gender expression.

Discrimination claims and First Amendment allowances will likely duel again in a new $2.5 million lawsuit brought by B. Scott (born Brandon Sessoms) over his appearance at the 2013 BET Awards.

B. Scott, a transgender man, says that when he was offered the job of Style Stage Correspondent for the 2013 BET Awards 106 and Park Pre-Show, the network and its corporate parent, Viacom, was fully aware of his personality and style.

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He says his attire for the evening was initially approved, but according to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in LA Superior Court, "After his first segment, B. Scott was literally yanked backstage and told that he 'wasn't acceptable.' B. Scott was told to mute the makeup, pull back his hair and was forced to remove his clothing and take off his heels; thereby completely changing his gender identity and expression."

"They forced him to change into solely men's clothing, different from the androgynous style he's used to, which he was uncomfortable with," the complaint adds.

Read the full complaint here. (As an editorial aside, we'll note that we are going with the male "he/his" pronoun to be consistent with the complaint.)

In past discrimination lawsuits, judges have given wide latitude to producers if it's in the name of the creative process of making content. A lawsuit over alleged sexual harassment from jokes told in the Friends writers' room failed. So too did a class action against producers of The Bachelor for refusing to cast African Americans in lead roles.

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This new lawsuit is somewhat unique because it handles alleged discrimination in the context of interfering with B. Scott's own identity and expression as a performer.

The complaint begins with a few name-drops.

B. Scott says that on May 16, he was having dinner with his good friend Mariah Carey, Rachel McIntosh, Liron Dagan, Randy Jackson and Stephen Hill, president of programming and specials at BET.

At the dinner, it was suggested that Hill should have B.Scott at the BET Awards, and according to the complaint, Hill agreed. Later, after discussions about him being a style correspondent commenced, B. Scott says he was told that BET liked his "look from the dinner party."

B. Scott says that he has previously appeared on the network's 106 and Park twice, and in both instances, there was no issue with his appearance. He says his transgender persona was "well-known and obvious."

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But later, even after his attire was allegedly preapproved and the staff took his outfit to be steamed, he was ordered to change.

"BET and Viacom's actions publicly and privately humiliated B. Scott and subjected him to ridicule and unfair treatment on the basis of his gender identity and sexual orientation," says the lawsuit written by attorney Waukeen McCoy.

Viacom hasn't responded yet to our request for comment.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner