EXCLUSIVE, updated with Starz statement: The same day that the premium cabler revealed Q3 numbers below expectations, Starz has been hit with a wide-ranging and potentially explosive multi-claim lawsuit by its former SVP Sales and Affiliate Marketing Keno Thomas.
“Normally, we would not comment on pending litigation, and, in this instance the company has not even been served,” a Starz spokesperson told Deadline. “However, based on reading the complaint in the press, rest assured that Starz, as well as the other defendants cited, will defend themselves vigorously against these scurrilous, unsubstantiated and offensive attacks by a disgruntled former employee.”
Thomas and his lawyers, on the other hand, have plenty to say.
Pink-slipped a year ago by Starz after a decade at the cabler, Thomas’ unspecified but sprawling complaint — which seeks damages and jury trial claiming wrongful termination and retaliation — alleges all sorts of shell games and scams by Starz. Naming senior execs including CEO Chris Albrecht, who is a defendant, Thomas outlines seemingly suspicious deals with the likes of DirecTV, Comcast, and Liberty Media (also named as a defendant) being “ordered by Starz senior management … to fabricate revenue and subscriber information” and other “malicious, fraudulent and/or oppressive” conduct.
Conduct that the longtime cable exec says he wouldn’t go along with.
“Starz ultimately terminated Mr. Thomas for his whistleblowing, his refusal to participate in illegal activities, and his advocacy on behalf of women and minorities,” says the dense, seven-claim suit filed Thursday in LA Superior Court (read it here). “Upon information and belief, Mr. Thomas was also terminated for bringing to light the unlawful influence Liberty had on the deal between Comcast and Starz.” The lawsuit, which details Albrecht’s well-known past domestic violence runs-in with the laws, says that Starz told Thomas, an African-American, that the reason he was being let go was “industry consolidation.” Earlier this year, the former SVP filed a complaint with the state of California under anti-racial- and gender-discrimination laws and was given a right-to-sue letter. It must be noted the state gives such letters to almost all complaints along such lines.
“In September 2014, Mr. Thomas health declined so much that he was compelled to go on medical leave for three weeks and undergo treatment for depression and anxiety,” say Thomas’ attorneys at Pasadena’s Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP of the situation their client claims he was in during his last days at the cabler. “Starz approved Mr. Thomas’ three-week medical leave. And Mr. Thomas was scheduled to return to work on October 7, 2014. The same week that Mr. Thomas returned from medical leave, Starz terminated him, exacerbating his emotional distress and health deterioration.”