Al Jazeera America Lawsuit: $15M Anti-Semitic, Anti-U.S., Anti-Female Suit “Absurd”, CEO Says

UPDATE, 8:37 AM: It hasn’t formally responded in the courts yet, but Al Jazeera America has come out swinging today against the multimillion-dollar “anti-female, anti-Semitic and anti-American bias” lawsuit filed last week by an ex-employee. “Al Jazeera America does not tolerate any discriminatory conduct and we take great pride in the diversity of our organization and its leadership. The recent attacks on us as being anti-Semitic, sexist and anti-American are absurd,” said the Qatar-backed news network’s CEO Ehab Al Shihabi today. “Al Jazeera America’s values are based on the highest ethical standards and professionalism. Integrity and respect guide our conduct internally and externally.”

While not addressing the $15 million lawsuit directly, as it had last week, AJAM said in a statement today that “reports” of such discriminatory behavior “are false and malicious and are designed to mar the exceptional talent and diversity of its employees and the values that Al Jazeera America upholds.”

On April 28, former AJAM Supervisor of Media and Archive Management Matthew Luke sued the news network for wrongful termination and retaliation over complaints he made about the alleged behavior of SVP Broadcast Operations and Technology Osman Mahmud. Later that day, the resignations of EVP Human Resources Diana Lee and communications EVP Dawn Bridges from AJAM were announced. The duo’s decision to leave this month had nothing to do with the lawsuit, sources say, but the timing shadows their exit.

PREVIOUS, APRIL 29 AM: An ex-employee of Qatar-backed news network Al Jazeera America says he was fired this year for reporting “anti-female, anti-Semitic and anti-American bias” by a senior executive. In a $15 million lawsuit (read it here) filed Tuesday, Matthew Luke alleges that Al Jazeera America’s SVP Broadcast Operations and Technology Osman Mahmud “created a hostile work environment” by “unabashedly and openly” disparaged Jews, America and female employees at the almost 2-year-old channel.

“As an employee at AlAM, Mr. Mahmud’s discriminatory conduct included, but was not limited to, removing female employees from projects to which they had been previously assigned by other management level employees, excluding women from emails and meetings relevant to their assignments, and making discriminatory, anti-Semitic and anti-American remarks such as ‘whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell,’ ” the 15-page complaint against the low-rated cable news network claims.

Al Jazeera America said in a statement that it doesn’t comment on active litigation but that “the company takes these matters seriously and will respond in the appropriate forum,” adding that “Al Jazeera America’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is fundamental to its mission.”

The lawsuit hits AJAM on the same day EVP Human Resources Diana Lee and communications EVP Dawn Bridges left the company. The duo left of their own decision and were not fired over the lawsuit or other matters, sources say. Lee and Bridges will officially leave the company next month. While not named directly in the multimillion-dollar complaint, Lee is an implied presence.

After nearly two years with the company, Luke was pink-slipped February 27 because he “did not fit into the company culture.” According to this week’s complaint that is what the unnamed AJAM’s Human Resources EVP told him directly. Ten days before that, the former AJAM Supervisor of Media and Archive Management had contacted the company’s Human Resources department about his concerns on the fast rising Mahmud’s supposedly repeated behavior. The filing claims that an internal complaint was lodged against Luke on February 20 by Mahmud over “a professional disagreement” that had occurred months before. Because of that Luke was told not to report to work and axed soon afterwards. The complaint also says that a female editor Luke had noted Mahmud’s treatment of in his interactions with the AJAM’s Human Resources has since been fired by the company too.

Luke’s trial-seeking lawsuit is looking for minimum of $5 million in compensatory damages for “physical and emotional suffering and loss of enjoyment of life,” and a minimum of $10 million in punitive damages. Luke is suing under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Al Jazeera America have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit after receiving a summons. Jeffrey Kimmel and Naomi Dabi Lantsberg of NYC firm Meister Seelig & Fein LLP are representing the plaintiff.

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