Racial discrimination in the media is sometimes hidden in plain sight.
Does anybody notice that some publications same to feature stories on
people of one particular color? Tasha Robertson, a black former People
senior editor, noticed it, and also claimed that racial animus was present
in her workplace as well. She filed
suit Wednesday in New York federal court, alleging the publication discriminated
against her based on her race and condoned a biased work environment.
Robertson filed race discrimination allegations against People, its owner,
Time Inc., and Elizabeth "Betsy" Gleick, a former executive editor of
the magazine. In the suit, Robertson, who was the only black editor during
her time with the magazine, and started with People after a stint as an
editor with Essence, another Time publication, alleges that under Gleick's
direction, racial bias permeated the work environment and spread onto
the pages of the magazine.
Prior to joining People, Robertson had worked for Time as an editor for
Essence magazine, starting in 2006. During her stint with Essence, the
suit said, Robertson quickly moved up the ranks, won awards and helped
guide the magazine's coverage of the 2008 presidential election.
People's human resources department approached Robertson in 2009 and
eventually offered her the senior editor position. Though Robertson eventually
accepted the job, she did so only after a warning from a former Time executive
who allegedly said that "several African Americans have had problems
with Betsy [Gleick], the suit said.
Robertson was laid off in May as part of a restructuring, according to
the suit. Gleick is no longer with People.
"Behind the cover and pages of People Magazine is a discriminatory
organization run entirely by white people who intentionally focus the
magazine on stories involving white people and white celebrities,"
the suit said. "Indeed, Ms. Gleick has repeatedly insisted that the
only types of stories she and People Magazine were interested in printing
were those concerning: 'White middle-class suburbia.'"
"The discrimination Ms. Robertson was subjected to and witnessed are
not isolated occurrences or the exception," the complaint said. "These
practices and lack of diversity have reinforced an atmosphere in which
it seems appropriate and without any consequence to openly make racist
and highly offensive remarks, treat black employees like second-class
citizens and, ultimately, derail the careers of hard-working African Americans
like Ms. Robertson, who was terminated because of her race."
In addition to the allegations that Robertson's layoff was racially
motivated, the complaint alleges that she was specifically subjected to
discrimination during her time as a senior editor. Robertson detailed
one alleged incident in which, shortly after she moved to People from
Essence, said she was the target of what she viewed as a racist remark
"Ms. Gleick critiqued Ms. Robertson, explaining: 'You need to
talk like everyone else here. You're not at Essence anymore,'"
the complaint said, describing the alleged incident. "As virtually
'everyone else' at People Magazine was and is white, and given
that Essence is geared towards African Americans, this was a not-so-thinly-veiled
way of saying that Ms. Robertson was somehow not 'white enough.'"
According to the complaint, the discrimination that Robertson was subjected
to and witnessed was a "regular and predictable result of its institutional
patterns, practices and policies, as well as the complete lack of diversity
in People's and Time, Inc's leadership."
The lawsuit is seeking relief and damages for unlawful discrimination under
the New York City Human Rights Law, which makes it unlawful "for
an employer or an employee or agent thereof, because of the actual or
perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability,
marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or
citizenship status of any person, to refuse to hire or employ or to bar
or to discharge from employment such person or to discriminate against
such person in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment."