Shonitria Anthony says she was fired in retaliation for organizing her peers to demand change, while ATTN: maintains she was laid off as the company shifted its business priorities.
ATTN: is being sued by a former employee who claims she was terminated in retaliation for complaining about Bill Maher’s use of the N-word on his HBO series.
During a June 2 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the host referred to himself as a “house n-—er.” (He later apologized for the comment.) Maher is an investor in the media startup, and Shonitria Anthony claims she was fired and defamed after rallying her colleagues to demand change after the incident. Anthony says she organized a meeting on June 5 with other black ATTN: employees who were upset and frustrated by their company’s lack of response to his statement.
In a lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court, Anthony says she asked the company to hold a meeting to discuss Maher’s comments, pointed out that there were no people of color in upper management and suggested there should be minority representation in the human resources department. She claims she was treated differently by management after leading her peers in complaining about the situation and on Aug. 3 was terminated in retaliation under the guise of a layoff.
ATTN: refutes her claim that there is no diversity in its upper management, and maintains that Anthony really was laid off. At the time, Adweek reported that half the company’s editorial staff was let go as part of a shift to video.
Anthony is suing for discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination and defamation, and is seeking damages for mental and emotional distress and lost wages, as well as punitive damages.
ATTN: on Thursday sent a statement to The Hollywood Reporter in response to the lawsuit: “This claim is without merit and the company will defend itself in due course. This employee was part of a reduction in staff related to a change in ATTN:’s business strategy. ATTN: has always used its platform to condemn discrimination and will continue to do so.”
ATTN: co-founder Jarrett Moreno also addressed the lawsuit in a Thursday evening email to staff that was obtained by THR. In addition to saying the claims are without merit and encouraging anyone with questions to reach out to the management team, he writes: “Last August, we made the tough decision to shift our focus and resources in the direction of increased video production, resulting in a de-emphasis of written content. To support that effort, we parted ways with four of our colleagues. It’s never easy to let people go, but this was a necessary business decision and the right one for our company. We are proud of the great video content we publish and proud of the diverse team we have at ATTN:.”
March 1, 9:30 p.m. Updated with ATTN: co-founder Jarrett Moreno’s email to staff.