Stephanie Himonidis, a popular Hispanic television and radio star known as “Chiquibaby,” alleges in a new lawsuit that she along with her husband Gerardo Lopez were fired by the Spanish Broadcasting System after objecting to an illegal payola scheme.
Himonidis once worked for Univision and had one of the highest-rated radio shows in Los Angeles and served as a celebrity judge on the Spanish-language equivalent of American Idol. According to her complaint, SBS knew Himonidis was in a relationship with Lopez, who worked as a programming manager for their radio stations KLAX-FM and KXOL-FM, and began courting her to poach her from Univision. In April 2014, she accepted an offer to work as a morning radio show host for KLAX. She got more than $200,000 in salary plus hundreds of thousands more in bonuses.
But after being hired, Lopez allegedly discovered the payola scheme, referring to the federally prohibited practice of secret cash payments from record companies in exchange for broadcasting of certain music.
“Defendant SBS demanded that Mr. Lopez engage in an illegal payola scheme by selling ‘music spots’ to musicians who wanted SBS to play thir music on the air,” states the lawsuit. “SBS executives instructed Mr. Lopez that part of his job duties were to sell ‘music spots,’ whereby musicians would buy an on-air announcement or advertisement promoting one of their songs or albums. No such ‘announcement’ or ‘advertisement’ was actually made, however. SBS simply played the song along with its other music programming as if they were one and the same.”
The lawsuit further alleges that SBS demanded $5,000 from musicians for the playing of a song, and that if the musicians refused, their music wouldn’t be played. Lopez was allegedly required to collect at least five “fees” per month, per station.
Lopez told Himonidis and complained to management, according to the complaint. He was fired that September in alleged retaliation.
Himonidis then hired her own attorney to question the payola scheme as well as object to a failure to make her bonus payment.
In Nov. 2014, SBS is reported in the complaint to have “ratchetted up its retaliatory efforts against Ms. Himonidis to a new, particularly despicable level” by instructing “one of its larger, physically intimidating, male security guards to follow Ms. Himonidis all around the workplace and to and from her vehicle all day, every day.”
Himonidis claims the stalking led her to feel frightened for her physical health and safety, but that she refused to submit. She also says she was moved into the graveyard shift time without notice or explanation, that the members of her radio team were fired, that she was given impossible demands on her time, and that she was asked to sign a statement and swear she understood that her employer had a “zero tolerance policy” on payola.
In January 2015, she says she was terminated on “trumped-up grounds.”
Himonidis and Lopez, represented by attorney Keith Fink, are now suing for wrongful termination, breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and other labor violations. They are demanding lost wages, compensatory damages, at least $3 million in special damages and more.
We’ve reached out to SBS and will update with any response.