Black employees file racial discrimination class-action lawsuit against CNN, Turner

This was posted on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Former and current black employees on Tuesday filed a class action lawsuit against Atlanta-based CNN, Turner Broadcasting and New York based parent company Time Warner for racial discrimination.

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“As a result of the current discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of DeWayne Walker vs. CNN, Time Warner & Turner, we have uncovered stories involving abuse of power, nepotism, revenge, retaliation and discrimination,” said Daniel Meachum  in a press release.

The press release provided a photo of DeWayne Walker, a CNN producer who sued CNN individually in January for $50 million for racial discrimination and retaliation for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He accused CNN of not promoting him over 13 years because he is black, skipped over frequently for promotions in favor of white employees.

According to his LinkedIn page, Walker is an integrated marketing manager at CNN.

Walker is not actually a plaintiff in this particular case but is a client of Meachum's and his individual lawsuit is still active. Celeslie Henley, a former executive administrative assistant at CNN, and Ernest Colbert Jr., a senior manager at TBS, are the only named plaintiffs though Meachum said 20 to 30 other unnamed current and former Turner employees helped him out with information about their experiences.

"This discrimination represents a company-wide pattern and practice," the lawsuit asserts, "rather than a series of isolated incidents." He said the company has been discriminating against blacks for more than 20 years.

The 40-page lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in the Northern District of Georgia said blacks - especially black males - are discriminated against in evaluations, compensation and promotions. Blacks receive "disproportionately lower scores on evaluations," the lawsuit alleges.

It says based on data provided by Turner, blacks are terminated at a higher rate than whites and promoted at a significantly slower rate. And the lawsuit said written and unwritten policies and practices for performing evaluations and promotions discriminate against blacks. Those policies "allow supervisors to essentially handpick candidates through word of mouth for available positions and make promotion decisions on the basis of subjective criteria," the lawsuit said. "This system prevents qualified African-Americans from competing equally for positions or even knowing that they are available."

Meachum said at a press conference Wednesday morning at his downtown Atlanta office that he has been collecting information about CNN and Turner for three years before filing the class-action suit.

"Upon information and belief," the suit says, "African-American employees have had to endure racial slurs and prejudicial biases from superiors such as, 'it's hard to manage black people' and 'who would be worth more: black slaves from times past or new slaves.' "

Meachum said he is "outraged as an African American lawyer to have to sit down and go through the facts with people telling what I've been told these past three years."

While blacks make up 30 to 35 percent of CNN's mid-level managerial and staffing positions, the lawsuit said, "they are drastically under-represented at higher pay grades and senior positions, while still being required to generally labor three times as long as Caucasians [for promotions.]."

And even blacks in the highest positions are not in the more crucial departments, the lawsuit said. In the Media Group Division, the Legal Division and Strategy Division, for instance, not a single black person is represented at the top levels, it said.

Henley, 44 of Fairburn, worked at CNN for seven years as an executive administrative assistant. She alleged that she was mistreated in the workforce based on race, sex and pregnancy. She said she worked far longer hours than her white counterparts. And she said she was treated significantly worse after coming back from maternity leave. She said she was fired as retaliation for complaining to HR in early 2014.

Colbert, 44, of Ellenwood, has worked at TBS for almost 20 years. He claimed in the lawsuit that he was consistently paid below grade level compared to comparable white employees. He also said he failed to receive a proper job description for nine years and was given senior-level managerial work without being properly compensated. He was promoted in August, 2016 to senior manager but said he is still underpaid compared to his white counterparts with comparable jobs. "Additionally, years of Mr. Colbert's positive performance evaluations have been nullified due to TBS's failure to maintain Mr. Colbert's personnel file," the lawsuit said.

In the lawsuit, Colbert said he repeatedly requested to be promoted to a higher pay grade. A white person who had held his position previously was promoted to a job grade several levels above Colbert's while performing the same job duties, he said.

The class action covers all blacks employed in salaried and mid-level managerial positions in the United States at any time between April, 1997 to the present.

"I've seen people at Turner that have worked there for 14, 15 years with a total raise over that time of $5,000 to $6,000. That's horrible," Meachum said. "That is not the face that I think Turner and CNN wants to put on. That's the reality of the people who work there."

At least three others have filed individual lawsuits against CNN over the past three years.

When I asked CNN president Jeff Zucker about the lawsuits last month, he declined to comment. A CNN spokeswoman today declined to comment about the latest lawsuit.

Meachum, who represents Walker, showed up on "Real Housewives of Atlanta" to help out Cynthia Bailey this season with her divorce to Peter Thomas. (She has yet to file. He said they are trying to put the entire divorce together and have it all agreed upon before filing anything.) Meachum also represented actor Wesley Snipes for many years.

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