- CNN faces a class action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by about 175 former and current employees, the New York Business Journal reports. The lawsuit follows similar allegations against Fox News and The New York Times.
- Lead plaintiffs Celeslie Henley, a CNN executive assistant, and Ernest Colbert Jr., a former manager at CNN affiliate Turner Broadcasting System, claim the media organization is “rife with racism” and “bigoted remarks,” according to the Journal.
- The plaintiffs allege that the following is one example of the remarks made: “Who would be worth more: black slaves from times past, or new slaves?” Henley and Colbert Jr. also claim that CNN paid them less than their white counterparts.
Allegations of racism and bigotry against news organizations, sadly, aren’t new. The recent spate of high-profile lawsuits highlighted a longstanding issue for the industry. Last week, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) issued a statement on its website in reaction to allegations of racial discrimination against CNN competitor Fox News.
“We've seen downsizing and layoffs in U.S. newsrooms that have had a disproportionate effect on the number of working black journalists," NABJ President Sarah Glover said in the statement. "No one working in the media industry today should be subjected to discriminatory practices. This has to end.”
HR should always be at the forefront of addressing systemic issues surrounding workplace diversity and discrimination issues. The recent CNN lawsuit includes allegations that go beyond hiring discrimination and detail claims of a workplace environment hostile to underrepresented groups. Accusations of bias, discrimination, racism and/or hostility must be taken seriously and investigated, lest media fall the way of the tech industry.
Part of that self-examination includes reviewing hiring practices to eliminate bias. Are African-Americans, women and other under-represented groups being recruited for only entry-level or clerical jobs? Are they being developed for leadership roles?
A workplace in which discriminatory behavior and discourse are tolerated could have financial as well as legal consequences for employers. Corporate sponsors of former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s show pulled their ads following sexual harassment allegations that ended in his termination.
Employers should intervene when discriminatory claims arise and be mindful of the possible consequences if they don’t. Even simple steps like taking names off of resumes have proven effective for addressing hiring bias in some cases. On the horizon, recruiting technology in the form of AI and machine learning could play a much bigger part in reducing bias.