Black News Channel, the cable and streaming service for black audiences, has been sued for gender discrimination by 13 current and former employees who claim they were paid much less than their male counterparts and sanctioned for being too aggressive in the workplace.
The Tallahassee, Florida-based company, which has around 300 employees, is also accused of sacking several of the women last month in retaliation for their complaint to the company’s human resources department.
The amended lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Cook County, Ill., Is an extension of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two former employees – Ashley Flete and Claudia Jean – last summer.
Several plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they were paid less than their male counterparts. In one case, a supervisor was allegedly paid less than the men reporting to her.
BNC, a private company majority owned by Shad Khan, owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, has denied the allegations raised in the lawsuit.
“We have thoroughly investigated each of these claims and will soon be filing our motion to dismiss. [the lawsuit] on multiple grounds, ”BNC spokesperson Tim Buckman said in a statement. “In addition, we are pursuing several actions related to the unfair behavior of the plaintiff’s lawyer and look forward to our appearance in court.”
BNC is seeking to dismiss the case, in part on the grounds that the company does not have a significant presence in Illinois, where the complaint was filed.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday to determine whether the amendment to the original lawsuit, which also targets class action status, will be allowed.
The widening of the litigation creates a perception problem for BNC, which tries to gain a foothold in an increasingly difficult television news sector. The company is looking for a strategic partner to develop.
BNC has been on the air since the end of 2019 and reaches more than 50 million cable and satellite homes. Its on-air hosts include Charles Blow, the New York Times op-ed writer, and prominent progressive commentators Marc Lamont Hill and Aisha Mills.
The complaint alleges a pattern of BNC directors complaining about the behavior of female employees who they claim behaved too aggressively or were “insufficiently compliant”.
The complaint also states that BNC’s employee handbooks for 2019 and 2020 did not offer a confidential mechanism or policy for reporting sexual harassment, gender discrimination or pay disparities. Employees were encouraged to raise workplace issues with their supervisors, even though supervisors were the subject of their complaints.
According to the lawsuit, Flete signed a two-year contract as an on-air reporter in June 2020 with an annual salary of $ 42,000 and was promoted to host of the morning show. The complaint stated that she was paid significantly less than male employees with similar experience.
Several months after taking office, she was reprimanded by a producer for being “insufficiently feminine”, according to the complaint.
Flete raised the issue with BNC’s human resources department and was fired shortly after, with 18 months remaining on her contract, the lawsuit says.
Flete has been informed by BNC that the network no longer needs a morning show host. However, a new host was hired six weeks later. Flete claims she was fired in retaliation for her human resources complaint.
Jean, a talent producer at BNC, said in the complaint that staff members made fun of her at meetings for “ways they felt were insufficiently feminine and too aggressive.” A supervisor also allegedly told her that she had “aggressive” masculine tendencies.
Jean said she was made aware of her termination during a meeting with human resources about her supervisor’s comments.
Another former BNC employee, Felicia Burton, said she was paid significantly less than several of the white men reporting to her. She raised the issue of inappropriate behavior by male human resources workers.
Burton, who served as technical production manager for BNC, said HR told him it was inappropriate to report male conduct because it was “in the past.”
Burton said she was stripped of her post and duties while on medical leave and was fired at the end of December. She thinks it was in retaliation for her complaints.
Lauren Coleman, who worked as a technical director for BNC for almost two years, said she was paid less than men in similar positions. She said her male supervisor told another employee that only men should be directors.
Similar issues were raised by the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including six women who are not identified by name. A current employee said she was demoted because her supervisor considered her “insufficiently feminine” and her salary had been reduced.