Over nine months after a racial discrimination and wrongful termination suit was filed against NBCUniversal and The Roots drummer Questlove by two former The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon crew members, the matter has been tossed out of the courts.
An October 5 ruling by New York Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead granting “Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the Amended Complaint” was today officially entered into the docket (read it here).
However, with sources telling Deadline that there has been no settlement in the matter, that arbitration order means things aren’t actually over. What it does mean is that Justice Edmead agrees with NBCU and the leader of the hip hop band that has been part of the Tonight Show since 2014 that the whole thing should now goes behind closed doors and out of the public record.
Well, like many such legal matters in the entertainment industry and many others, because of the not-so-fine print.
“The claims of Plaintiffs Kurt Decker and Michael Cimino (jointly “Plaintiffs”) should be heard in arbitration and only in arbitration because they fall within the scope of the broad mandatory arbitration provision contained in the collective bargaining agreement (‘CBA’) to which Plaintiffs, as former NBCUniversal Media, LLC (‘NBC’) employees and union members, are bound,” asserted the memo accompanying the first filing by NBC and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson back in mid-March.
In their more than $1 million seeking January 24 complaint, Decker and Cimino claimed that they were pink slipped from the late night show “because they are Caucasian.” Citing that there was nothing said or done by them, the duo say they were recipients of “an unsolicited racist and misogynist text message from a Tonight Show stagehand” in the summer of 2017.“ Unlike other members of the crew and at least one member of The Roots, Decker and Cimino lost their jobs after a nearly two month investigation.
Network insiders told Deadline at the time that was the former Saturday Night Live and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon camera operators were actually terminated at the Tonight Show because they violated NBC policy requiring that such texts and other material be formally reported ASAP. In their action, Decker and Cimino say that they did not reply to the text and reported it to management at the Tonight Show and The Roots’ manager Keith McPhee telling them that they found the text offensive.
Questlove himself was named as defendant because the suit claimed that Thompson insisted both Decker and Cimino be shown the door immediately. The initial legal action also said that African-American Roots bassist Mark Kelly was not even disciplined though he too is said to have received the texts in question. “NBC acquiesced to Questlove’s overtly discriminatory demand,” the 15-page jury trial complaint declared. Reps for the musician said that was BS and the Comcast-owned company said in a statement earlier this year that “the decision about these plaintiffs was the company’s alone.”
Almost since the suit was first filed, Newark-based Proskauer Rose lawyers for NBC and NYC-based Pryor Cashman attorneys for Questlove have sought to have the matter moved out of the courts and to arbitration, as big corporations like to do nowadays. In response, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully tried to put up a bulwark of New York State Human Rights laws. When that went nowhere fast, the duo “falsely alleged,” in the words of NBC and Questlove’s team, that the collective bargaining agreement had expired.
Now, it will all go down one way or another far from the public eye – which really isn’t good optics for either side.