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Fox News is facing another round of legal trouble — this time in the form of multiple lawsuits arising from alleged pervasive race discrimination by the network.
First, the company and three individual women are facing a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in New York federal court, filed by the attorney representing Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, who sued the company in March.
Adasa Blanco is suing the company’s longtime controller Judith Slater, who was fired after the first suit, as well as executive vp legal and business affairs Dianne Brandi and Fox employee Susan Lovallo — in addition to the network and its parent company. Like Brown and Wright, Blanco claims she and “other dark-skinned employees suffered years-long relentless racial animus at the hands of their White supervisor.”
Attorney Douglas Wigdor claims Fox fired Slater not to punish her, but rather to save its reputation.
“Fox’s public relations machine went into full gear,” writes Wigdor. “In an effort to get out ahead of this lawsuit and pretend to care about the discriminatory conduct committed against Ms. Brown, Ms. Wright and other Black employees, upon information and belief, Fox leaked some of the allegations contained herein to the press.”
It’s Wigdor who’s turning to the press now. In a statement Tuesday, he announced not only the federal action, but also a state class action claim — both of which he will hand out during a press conference Wednesday morning. He says the firm is now representing 13 current or former employees, one of whom is ex-Fox and Friends co-host Kelly Wright.
“When it comes to racial discrimination, 21st Century Fox has been operating as if it should be called 18th Century Fox,” says Wigdor in the statement. “We sincerely hope the filing of this race class action wakes 21st Century Fox from its slumbers and inspires the Company to take a conciliatory and appropriate approach to remedy its wrongs. If 21st Century Fox chooses to defend the indefensible — systemic race discrimination — we will utilize our collective efforts and resources to hold those responsible for these egregious discriminatory acts before a Bronx jury.”
The federal suit claims ex-CEO Roger Ailes built a literal barrier to keep dark-skinned employees out of his office following 9/11 — because an employee from Bangladesh accidentally walked into the room one day. According to the suit, that employee, Musfiq Rahman, was also repeatedly mocked by Slater over his accent.
Blanco, a Puerto Rican woman who worked in the accounts payable department for nearly a decade, also says she was made fun of for her accent, specifically for rolling her “Rs.”
The lawsuit claims “pervasive race discrimination” by Slater. “Slater regularly called her commuter train to New Jersey the ‘Bombay Express,’ due to the number of people of Indian descent who live in New Jersey,” Wigdor writes. “Slater openly talked about her belief that all Chinese men have ‘small penises.’ Slater called day laborers ‘cheap Mexicans.'”
While not as detailed in its allegations against Lovallo, the suit claims she also demeaned and belittled minority employees. Brandi’s involvement comes because Blanco says she first reported Slater’s behavior to HR in 2008 — and reported both Slater and Lovallo in 2012.
Slater’s attorney issued a statement in response to Wigdor’s claims: “These are meritless and frivolous lawsuits and all claims of racial discrimination against Ms. Slater are completely false,” says Catherine Foti. “We have yet to see the alleged additions to the original lawsuit. Given how outrageous and offensive these suits are, it’s incomprehensible to imagine how anyone has joined or would join these legal actions.”
The suit claims the network doesn’t just reserve retaliation for employees who complain about sexual harassment, like Gretchen Carlson and Julie Roginsky. Brown was fired and Wright was demoted, they claim, for speaking out.
“Flouting all responsibility to follow the laws designed to protect employees in these exact circumstances, Fox clearly sees itself as a company entitled to operate above and outside of the civil laws applicable to everyone else,” writes Wigdor.
Wigdor also filed a second amended class action complaint in Bronx Supreme Court on Tuesday. This suit claims black employees who complained about Slater’s behavior to HR were told “nothing could be done because Slater knew too much about senior executives,” including Ailes and recently ousted anchor Bill O’Reilly.
Again, Wigdor attacks the network’s public claims of “consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect” and says nothing could be further from the truth. “[T]he only consistency at Fox is the abhorrent, intolerable, unlawful and hostile racial discrimination that was inflicted on minority employees that appears more akin to Plantation-style management than a modern-day work environment,” he writes.
The claims in the state lawsuit largely echo those of the federal complaint. There is, however, a section devoted to O’Reilly, who recently lost his gig not long after reports surfaced that he called a black woman “hot chocolate.” As one example, Kelly Wright says The O’Reilly Factor host turned down a series of features he pitched because it “showed Blacks in ‘too positive’ a light.”
Wigdor proffers the O’Reilly comments as a symptom of a systemic, company-wide issue. The proposed class includes “[a]ll minorities employed by Fox News at any time during the applicable liability or statute of limitations periods, up to and including the date of any judgment in this case.”
A Fox News representative issued a statement in response to the claims Tuesday evening: “FOX News and Dianne Brandi vehemently deny the race discrimination claims in both lawsuits. They are copycat complaints of the original one filed last month. We will vigorously defend these cases.”
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