LOS ANGELES (AP) — A female former BET executive is suing the TV channel and parent company Viacom for gender discrimination, claiming an “old boys’ club” exploited women workers and led to her firing while she was on disability for breast cancer.
Zola Mashariki’s lawsuit alleges that Black Entertainment Television, Viacom and its largely male leadership foster a climate in which women are systematically harassed and denied opportunities.
Her suit filed Wednesday in federal court seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages for alleged losses including back pay and benefits.
BET referred a request for comment to Viacom. In a statement, the company said it denied all allegations of wrongdoing and called the claims a misrepresentation of facts.
Viacom said it 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.”
Mashariki, a Harvard Law School graduate and producer whose film credits include “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” was hired by BET in May 2015 as an executive vice president and head of original programming.
BET is a top-rated channel with programming aimed at African-American viewers.
Mashariki brought top talent and shows to the network but Viacom, BET, their human resources departments and company executives subjected her to gender discrimination, the lawsuit said.
Men make up the majority of BET and Viacom executives and the companies foster “a good old boys’ club atmosphere and mentality that are hostile to women and their advancement,” the suit said.
According to the lawsuit, Mashariki was refused work opportunities and asked to perform “more work for less pay and lower title” compared to male employees.
She suffered retaliation when she complained about the treatment, the suit said.
Mashariki was diagnosed with early breast cancer in December 2016 and worked until the day of her surgery in early February of this year, the suit said, when she went on medical leave.
When another, more severe type of breast cancer was diagnosed, requiring a longer leave, the company questioned the diagnosis, interfered with her disability request and “deliberately damaged her reputation,” the suit said.
During recovery from a second surgery, it was “falsely announced” last March she would be leaving BET and suggested she’d been terminated for performance issues, despite her “outstanding” performance reviews, according to the suit.
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, Mashariki’s lawsuit said.