CNN Struggling Under Shadow of Growing Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Here's a story CNN won't acknowlege amidst its obsessive Bill O'Reilly coverage. A lawsuit filed against the Cable News Network and a number of its sister companies -- including the Turner Broadcasting System and Time Warner, Inc., -- claims that African-Americans receive lower performance ratings in evaluations, that there are dramatic differences in pay between similarly situated employees of different races, and that the promotion of African-American employees is blocked by a “glass ceiling.”

Last December, those companies were hit with a proposed class action in Georgia federal court. The named plaintiffs include Celeslie Henly, who says she worked as an executive administrative assistant at CNN for seven years before she was fired five days after she emailed the corporation’s Human Resources Department about discriminatory treatment.

According to an article posted by The Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner, the class action lawsuit filed against CNN on Tuesday, March 4, is very broad and is spearheaded by Henley and Ernest Colbert, Jr., a current TBS staff member.

“They claim that the companies ‘have been mistreating black managers since the late 1990s’ in the legal action,” Gardner stated.

In addition, “Colbert claims that he is underpaid compared to his white peers” and charges that “the internal policies ensure black employees aren't promoted as often or to positions as high as are white employees,” the senior editor stated.

"As a result, jobs are filled without being posted, candidates are handpicked in advance, and supervisors who make hiring decisions have implemented 'preferred qualifications' to mask the prejudicial preference in their candidate selection," writes attorney Daniel Meachum in the complaint.

"Indeed,” Meachum claimed, “although African-Americans make up about 30 to 35 percent of the employees in the mid-level managerial and staffing positions, they are extremely under-represented at higher pay grades and senior positions."

The complaint cites hiring and advancement statistics while alleging that African-American employees have endured slurs from superiors, including: "It's hard to manage black people," and "Who would be worth more, black slaves from times past or new slaves?"

Gardner added that “the case against CNN may soon become bigger by many multiples.”

“That's because after the defendants moved for dismissal or at least a more definitive statement about specific allegations, also raising the prospect that some of the claims may be barred by statute of limitations or by plaintiffs not exhausting administrative remedies, the plaintiffs' attorneys told the judge of their wish to file an amended complaint,” he reported.

A plaintiffs' motion to amend that was filed stated:

Since the filing of this action, counsels for the plaintiffs have been contacted by more than 175 people, both former and current employees of the Defendant, requesting to be members of the putative class action, all having similar complaints of intentional racial discrimination, discrimination impact and discriminatory practices employed by the Defendants.

“The attorneys also wrote that many of the potential members recently coming forward are within the administrative process at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and awaiting their 90-days-right-to-sue letter,” Gardner added.

“Time Warner has been given until April 14 to respond to the motion to amend the complaint,” he stated while noting similar legal problems the Fox News Channel is currently facing.

“Both Fox News and CNN are in court defending themselves from racial discrimination, though the color of each suit is different,” he noted.

“The one against Fox News has garnered more recent attention,” Gardner indicated, “perhaps thanks to questions that continue to circle around how the cable news network has handled allegations of harassment during the leadership of Roger Ailes.”

Gardner added: “The suit, filed in New York Supreme Court last week by Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, alleges that the two women were subjected to ‘top-down racial harassment,’ specifically from Fox's longtime controller, Judith Slater, charged with making slurs and derogatory comments like: ‘Why are all black men women-beaters?’"

“The Fox News complaint, which came on the heels of Slater's termination, further alleges that executives including Ailes and current President Bill Shine allowed for "repugnant racial discrimination to go unchecked,” he noted.

“The suit picked up more publicity this morning thanks to word that a third employee, Monica Douglas, was joining the legal action and was under pressure not to report Slater's behavior.”

As if that wasn’t enough trouble, Julie Roginsky, a political consultant and cable news commentator, hit Fox News with a lawsuit on Monday claiming retaliation over treatment in the wake of alleged sexual harassment by Roger Ailes.

On Monday, Roginsky filed the suit in New York Supreme Court, and Ailes' attorney Susan Estrich stated that the allegations are "total hogwash” and “total nonsense."

Meanwhile, Gardner stated that he’s not suggesting any equivalence between the pair of legal actions. “Only that the growing lawsuit against CNN deserves attention, too.”

Randy Hall
Randy Hall