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People Magazine Sued for Racial Discrimination


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 from Gleick.

"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."

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