Viacom & BET Want Former Exec’s “Unclear” Discrimination Suit Tossed

Associated Press

Less than a month after Zola Mashariki smacked BET and parent company Viacom with a gender-discrimination and wrongful-termination lawsuit, the media outlets have hit back against the former Head of Original Programming in an multi-pronged attempt to disconnect from each other and get the case dismissed.

“BET respectfully requests that the Court dismiss Mashariki’s Complaint in its entirety, and, as for Mashariki’s second and eighth claims, as asserted against [former BET president of programming Stephen] Hill, and her eighteenth claim for defamation, that these claims be dismissed with prejudice,” says a memorandum accompanying the channel’s motion (read it here), filed yesterday in federal court.

Alleging that “it is unclear from her Complaint which allegation(s) is/are intended to support which claim(s) for relief,” attorney Elena Baca of L.A.’s Paul Hastings LLP has requested a June 17 hearing on the motion to shut the whole thing down.

“The Complaint is filled with inflammatory argument and unsupported legal conclusion,” the lawyer adds, saying “Mashariki compounds the confusion — likely to mask the fact that Viacom has been improperly joined — by conflating Viacom and BET (collectively referring to both as ‘the Company’) throughout the Complaint.”

Mashariki’s wide-ranging, damages-seeking action filed May 3 named Hill as a defendant as well as BET and Viacom. Besides their mutual work history and this lawsuit, the two are linked in another fashion — it was announced March 30 that both Hill and Mashariki, who was on medical leave for breast cancer, would be exiting BET – an exit the latter disputed.

In its filing Tuesday, BET claimed it told Mashariki on the day before her medical leave was supposed to end that “her employment was being terminated and she need not report to work the next day.” After a chat with Mashariki’s lawyer, the company agreed to extend her leave to April 11, which would become the new date of her termination. However after the March 30 announcement, the whole thing fell apart in a flurry of emails and accusations. Mashariki asserted that she was in fact still employed by BET and would return to the job she had held for just more than two years – then she took them to court amid claims of a “misogynistic culture” and a “good old boys club” at the cable network.

That was a big and unfocused move, in BET’s opinion, which stops just short of calling the action a waste of its and the court’s time.

“Worse still, Mashariki conflates parties and, within her claims, does little more than list the legal elements,” the BET filing of May 30 states. “Ultimately, Mashariki places this Court — and BET — in the impermissible position of not actually knowing what the alleged factual basis is for her eighteen claims, or whether they can be validly stated.”

On top of the BET filings, Viacom also put paperwork in front of the court to end the case – or at least get out of it. “Viacom respectfully requests Mashariki’s claims against it be dismissed with prejudice,” asserts the Redstone family-run conglomerate.

“Put simply, Mashariki has failed to assert sufficient facts that would frame a plausible claim against Viacom,” BET’s parent company says in a memo with its May 30 motion (read it here), which requests that same June 17 hearing. “As for Mashariki’s single, non-employment claim (defamation), despite adding Viacom to the claim, she fails to allege that any person authorized to speak for Viacom said anything about her, at all,” says the paperwork, also from Baca, as Viacom denies it could be in any way seen as Mashariki’s employer.

“Mashariki may argue she alleged Viacom ‘made, approved, and ratified’ BET’s actions,’ ” the media giant declares. “This gets her nowhere. Such allegations are properly discarded as unwarranted conclusions; they are neither facts nor supported by facts.”

Let’s see if Judge Philip Gutierrez agrees with that next month.

Mashariki is represented by a team of lawyers from Oakland’s Medina Orthwein LLP, and the D.C. and San Francisco offices of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.

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