UPDATED with ATTN statement: ATTN: Inc., an online media company whose investors and collaborators include Bill Maher, is being sued for racial discrimination and wrongful termination by a former employee who claims she was fired after organizing fellow African-Americans in her office in the wake of Maher’s use of the N-word on his HBO show last summer.
In a suit filed Wednesday but date-stamped incorrectly (read it here), Shonitria Anthony says she “terminated because of her race and in retaliation for asserting race based complaints and seeking diversity initiatives at the workplace to improve the working environment of persons of color at ATTN.” She was let go in August after 10 months at the company, a job for which she relocated from New York to Los Angeles.
“As an African American,” the suit reads, “Anthony was understandably upset by the racial slur uttered by someone publicly connected to the company who, at the time of the incident, had multiple videos and other materials posted on ATTN’s website. Aside from the incident itself, Anthony, along with other African American employees of ATTN, were upset and frustrated by the lack of response by ATTN to the inappropriate and racist comment made by Maher.”
She was hired in October 2016, and about eight months before Maher used the N-word on his HBO show Real Tine with Bill Maher. The Monday after the episode aired, Anthony led a meeting of her African-American co-workers, and they agreed that “ATTN must do more than their belated apology to address the issue.” The group was concerned about the company’s “continued partnership with Maher” and “that there were no persons of color in upper management” — the latter statement ATTN says is not true. In a subsequent meeting with upper management, the suit alleges, their “responses and actions … were mechanical and lacking sincerity.”
Anthony tried to rally her African-American co-workers, the suit says, but “ATTN began to treat Anthony differently.” Upper management “began to avoid internation with Anthony,” and “ATTN criticized Plaintiff’s communication with her co-workers.” The suit says that on August 3 “ATTN terminated Anthony’s employment claiming lay-off. and that the company was moving in a different direction.”
The day after Anthony was let go from ATTN, a trade publication story noted that half of the company’s staff was laid off and that the remaining employees were shifted to video production.
“This claim is without merit, and the company will defend itself in due course,” an ATTN spokesperson told Deadline in a statement. “This employee was part of a reduction in staff related to a change in ATTN:’s business strategy. ATTN: has always used its platform to condemn discrimination and will continue to do so.”
Along with ATTN, defendants include Katherine Starros, its Head of People Operations; Heads of Editorial Mike Vanisi; and ATTN co-founder Jarrett Moreno. Attorney Lauren Mayo-Abrams of the Law Offices of Lauren Abrams in Beverly Hills is representing the plaintiff in the suit, which seeks punitive AND XXX damages and demands a jury trial