Black News Channel sued by 13 women for sexist workplace, discrimination

A producer alleges that she was berated for being “insufficiently feminine” during broadcasts.

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In an amended complaint filed on Tuesday in a Cook County, Illinois court, 13 women are alleging gender discrimination at Black News Channel. The women cite unequal pay and a workplace culture that forced them “to conform to sexist or misogynistic stereotypes about how women are supposed to behave.”

According to a report from TheWrap, the suit was originally filed by two female employees, Ashley Flete and Claudia Jean, in August. Flete alleged that a producer berated her on-air through her headset for being “insufficiently feminine” during broadcasts. 

Flete said that after filing a complaint with human resources, she was terminated only six months into a two-year contract. She said that the two-year-old network terminated her in retaliation for complaining about her treatment. 

Executive producer Maria Roach, newsroom executive Felicia Burton, director Lauren Coleman, line producer Kyra Branch and part-time assignment editor Kisha Wilkinson also joined the complaint. Six additional plaintiffs are listed as “Jane Doe.” 

According to TheWrap, Branch and one other unnamed plaintiff are still working for Black News Channel; the others have been fired or resigned. 

In addition to sexist treatment, several of the women have alleged pay inequity. 

Coleman, a director at the network, said in the complaint that she was paid less than male colleagues. She said that she was denied a salary increase when other male technical directors were given raises of between $10,000 and $15,000. 

Branch, a producer, alleges that she was paid more than $40,000 less than male producers in similar roles. Another unnamed plaintiff alleges that she was offered a starting pay of $43,000, while male counterparts in the same position made between $80,000 and $100,000. 

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(Credit: Black News Channel)

Other accusations include romantic and sexual overtures by male colleagues, accusations that drugs were put in the beverages of female employees, as well as the ranking of female employees based on their physical attractiveness. The complaint claims that reporting behavior to higher-ups led to retaliation, including being stripped of roles, titles and more. 

Wilkinson, who started at the network as an assignment editor and was later promoted to senior planner, said she reported two instances of sexual harassment and reported a pay disparity to human resources. In the complaint, she also said she was told not to speak during meetings because male superiors “said women do not sound intelligent.” 

As previously reported, as many as 300 employees were laid off from the network a week before Christmas. 

“I am reaching out to you today with some very unfortunate news about a reduction in our workforce,” said President and CEO Princell Hair in an internal memo, TheWrap reported.

“As you know, throughout the course of this year, we have been expanding at a rapid rate. At the same time, the U.S. economy is facing some tough challenges, several of which are heavily impacting the media industry and the revenue streams that fuel our emerging enterprise. I am incredibly proud of this team and all that we have built and accomplished. Your work has been outstanding, but we have reached a point where a considerable adjustment is needed in order to protect the health of our business and keep BNC moving forward.”

In a statement provided exclusively to theGrio Thursday, Black News Channel said, “Unprofessional and inappropriate conduct within our workplace environment is not tolerated. We take these matters seriously and have policies in place that prohibit all forms of unlawful behavior, as well as other conduct that is incompatible with our company values. We have investigated each of these claims thoroughly and will soon be filing our motion to dismiss based on several grounds. In addition, we are pursuing multiple actions related to the plaintiffs’ counsel’s pattern of ethical misconduct and are looking forward to our day in court.”

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