Two white “Tonight Show” cameramen say Roots frontman Questlove had them fired after they received a racist text message from a stagehand but spared a black band member who got the same offending message, according to a $2 million lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York state court.
Law360, New York (January 25, 2018, 10:57 PM EST) — Two white “Tonight Show” cameramen say Roots frontman Questlove had them fired after they received a racist text message from a stagehand but spared a black band member who got the same offending message, according to a $2 million lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York state court.
Plaintiffs Kurt Decker and Michael Cimino were fired due to the color of their skin, the lawsuit plainly states.
“NBC’s wrongful termination of these two highly accomplished employees is blatant and unjustified discrimination in violation of both New York State and New York City’s human rights laws,” the suit states. “Not only has NBC’s action devastated these two men’s finances, but NBC’s unlawful actions have also defamed plaintiffs and irreparably damaged their reputations.”
The litigation trails back to June, when Decker and Cimino say they received a “racist and misogynist” text message, along with Roots band member Mark Kelly, while they were all working on the set of the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Decker and Cimino both say they didn’t respond to the offending message; its wording is not provided in the complaint. In their suit, the men say they were both “shocked to receive it and repulsed by its content.”
Neither man forwarded the text, the suit states. Decker says he saw Kelly sharing it with other members of The Roots band on stage during that night’s taping of the Tonight Show.
The next day, the plaintiffs say they reported the text message to Roots Manager Keith McPhee and a technical production manager at NBC.
“Plaintiffs, who are both Caucasian, were both immediately suspended for having received the unsolicited text message,” the suit states. “Kelly, who is African-American, was not.”
A sham investigation was conducted, the men say, and in the weeks that followed Questlove allegedly insisted that they lose their jobs. But Kelly was not punished at all, according to the suit.
“NBC acquiesced to Questlove’s overtly discriminatory demand,” the suit states.
Prior to their termination on Aug. 3, 2017, Cimino had worked at NBC for 17 years and Decker for more than 24.
The suit names NBCUniversal Media LLC and Questlove — whose real name is Ahmir Khalib Thompson — as defendants and alleges violations of New York State and New York City human rights laws.
While the men said they were told that their failure to report the incident was the reason for their termination, they say they did report the text message the next day to NBC Technical Producer Bryon King and to McPhee.
An NBC spokesperson provided a corporate statement Thursday to Law360 in response to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
“NBC is committed to providing a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. We have strong policies in place that protect against discrimination in any form. The decision about these plaintiffs was the company’s alone,” it states.
A representative for Questlove could not be reached. According to a statement provided to Rolling Stone and other media outlets, the musician said NBC alone made the decision to fire the two men.
“Questlove denies the ridiculous allegations made in this lawsuit. Racism is REAL and exists throughout the world and for these gentlemen to claim victim is not only disrespectful to Questloveand his band mates, but to all that truly endure racism on a daily basis,” the statement says.
Decker and Cimino are represented by Richard Roth, Jordan M. Kam and Steven L. Wittels of The Roth Law Firm PLLC.
Counsel information for NBCUniversal Media LLC and Questlove was not available Thursday.
The case Kurt Decker et al. v. NBCUniversal Media LLC et al., case number 150719/2018, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.