American Idol returned a few weeks ago with some new judges and some new allegations. Last week, New York attorney James H. Freeman asked for permission to file a discrimination lawsuit on behalf of nine former Idol contestants, all of whom are people of color (black, in particular) and were publicly kicked off the show.
Mr. Freeman claims that he investigated the show and discovered that producers had only publicly disqualified nine people from the show, all of whom where black. He launched his investigation after Jermaine Jones was kicked off the show publicly in March 2012. During this investigation, Mr. Freeman determined producers never publicly disqualified a white or non-black contestant from the show. Also included in the disqualification are allegations that producers chose to publicly humiliate contestants and further negative stereotypes of the black community.
Mr. Freeman believes the producers run a scheme, during which time they begin disqualifying people during the background check portion of the show. This is the portion of qualification for Idol where contestants are asked if they have ever been arrested. Asking applicants if they have ever been arrested, and not convicted, is a violation of California Labor Code. Mr. Freeman argues, that contestants on American Idol are essentially applying for employment with the show and as such, producers cannot ask them if they have ever been arrested.
In order to sue for discrimination, the suit must first be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal law enforcement agency that protects against employment discrimination in the workplace based on an individual’s age, race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, and retaliation for reporting. If the EEOC finds that there was discrimination, they can try to settle the matter or they can file a lawsuit on behalf of the individuals. However, the EEOC does not file lawsuits in all cases where discrimination is found.
However, the case Mr. Freeman is making seems shaky at best. Sure, the public disqualification of nine African American males isn’t great. But, the show has had many black contestants, three of them winners of the whole kit and caboodle, as well as black and non-white judges. Fox has declined to comment as of this moment, but Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe has called the allegations ‘ridiculous’. He further stated that they “treat everybody the same … no matter the race, religion or sex. I think we’ve always had a fantastic share of talent from contestants both black and white … I don’t think I’ve ever seen racism at the show.”
It also seems unlikely that being chosen to be a contestant on the show is akin to applying for employment. Competing in a talent competition doesn’t seem like a credible employment option.
The other former contestants involved in the lawsuit are: Corey Clark and Jaerad Andrews, Donnie Williams, Thomas Daniels and Akron Watson, Ju’Not Joyner, Chris Golightly, and Terrell and Derrell Brittenum.
Maybe this whole suit is a ploy for attention. Maybe it’s a ratings grab. Maybe there really is something weird going on behind the scenes. I’ve heard American Idol called a lot of things, but intentionally discriminatory hasn’t been one of them. It will be interesting to see if the EEOC agrees to go ahead with the suit.
What do you guys think of the allegations?
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