In response to the discrimination lawsuit filed by Zola Mashariki, a former female executive for Black Entertainment Television (BET), “BET’s former head of originals is firing back,” claiming that Machariki “failed to adequately plead her case in the lawsuit that followed the announcement of her exit from the network.” The network actually “moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Mashariki failed to make clear which of her allegations support which of the claims for relief she’s seeking.” BET’s parent company, Viacom, also asked the court to “be dismissed from the suit, arguing that Mashariki failed to show the parent company is liable for her claims against the network.”
For those who don’t know, Zola Mashariki filed a lawsuit against BET and Viacom on claims that an “old boys’ club exploited women workers and led to her firing while she was on disability for breast cancer.” Additionally, according to the lawsuit, she alleged that BET, “Viacom and its largely male leadership foster a climate in which women are systematically harassed and denied opportunities.” At the time that the lawsuit was filed in federal court, Mashariki was seeking an “unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages for alleged losses including back pay and benefits.”
So what exactly happened to lead to the lawsuit? When and why was Mashariki let go? How long had she been working for the top-rated channel popular among African-American viewers? For starters, Mashariki joined the TV channel back in May of 2015 “as an executive vice president and head of original programming.” During her time with BET, she attracted top talent and shows to the network while being subjected to gender discrimination by “Viacom, BET, their human resources departments and company executives.” According to the lawsuit, the workplace atmosphere was “hostile to women and their advancement.” Additionally, she was “refused work opportunities and asked to perform more work for less pay and lower title compared to male employees.” When she spoke out against the treatment, she claims she “suffered retaliation.”
Things really began going south when she was diagnosed with breast cancer near the end of 2016 but continued to work “until the day of her surgery in early February of this year,” when she went on protected medical leave, according to the lawsuit. During her leave, she was diagnosed with another, “more severe type of breast cancer” that required a longer leave. According to the lawsuit, instead of being supportive, the network began questioning her diagnosis and even “interfered with her disability request and deliberately damaged her reputation.”
Additionally, while she was recovering from a second surgery, it was “falsely announced” that she would be leaving BET. The network even suggested that she had been “terminated for performance issues, despite her outstanding performance reviews,” the lawsuit states.
However, Masharik was on protected medical leave, protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and she was even protected by the California Family Rights Act. Because of this, the lawsuit alleges that her firing “while on protected leave violated the Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act and was part of BET and Viacom’s egregiously reckless and inhumane treatment of her.”
In an earlier statement Viacom said:
“Viacom and BET take the health and well-being of our employees very seriously and we are committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse workplace that supports the success of all employees.”