New motion details racial profiling claims against Billboard magazine
By Emanuella Grinberg
NEW YORK (Court TV) -- Lawyers for two ex-Billboard magazine staffers who are suing their former employer over their May 2004 dismissal claim racial profiling took place in the offices of the music industry's oldest trade publication.
New documents filed in the suit indicate human resources administrators at Billboard magazine tracked the racial demographics of their employees in an effort to detect budding "alliances" between minorities on staff.
In the $29 million suit filed against VNU Business Media in June 2004, former editors Keith Girard and Samantha Chang alleged upper management perpetuated "an atmosphere of sexual and racist intimidation of and discrimination against female and minority employees."
They claimed they were dismissed for reporting a violent and vulgar outburst directed at Chang by a veteran writer who was part of an "entrenched cabal of white male staffers."
Deborah Patton, Vice President of Communications for VNU, said it is the company's policy to not comment on pending litigation, but said a motion to dismiss some of the claims had been filed.
"We intend to defend the lawsuit vigorously," she said.
Documents filed in New York State Supreme Court suggest human resources administrators, at the behest of upper management, kept a close eye on minority employees, including Chang, who is an Asian-American.
"Only 34 days after Chang became an employee, VNU human resources had already begun to 'racially profile' Chang and a colleague, Carla Hay, a senior writer who is African-American," the motion claims.
"It appears they were singled out simply because they were minorities, successful, well-educated, and most astonishing of all, because Chang had the apparent misfortune to befriend an African-American female," the plaintiffs allege.
In a motion to subpoena Billboard magazine's former Los Angeles-based human resources manager to testify in the suit, lawyers for the fired editors attached internal e-mails between Judy Bellamy and her New York-based colleagues.
"I thought more about this possible Carla Hay/Samantha Chang alliance and I'm a little bit concerned," Lisa Garris wrote in an October 27, 2003, e-mail to Bellamy, who stopped working for Billboard after the lawsuit was filed.
"Samantha is an attorney and is very bright. Carla Hay is also extremely bright. This is just something we should be mindful of," Garris wrote.
In another e-mail sent later that day, Garris reported she saw the two women going to lunch together.
"Samantha and Carla's budding friendship might not turn into anything that would result in a lawsuit, but I feel it's good to be aware of it and to just keep an eye on it," Garris wrote.
Along with the e-mail, Garris attached a chart of the demographic breakdown of the magazine's editorial staff, which consisted of six minorities among 33 employees.
Among other claims, the 2004 complaint alleged Billboard executive editor Ken Schlager, also named in the suit, kept a green vibrator in plain sight on a shelf in his office that he often used to "intimidate" female employees.
"In order to prepare for trial, we need to examine Bellamy as to the facts and circumstances leading to Girard and Chang's terminations, as well as to her action or inaction in response to Samantha Chang's multiple requests for assistance," the plaintiffs' lawyer, Kyle Bisceglie, told Courttv.com.