Court Rules CNN Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Can Proceed

Former CNN producer Stanley Wilson’s racial discrimination lawsuit against CNN may proceed after a California appellate court reversed a lower court’s ruling on Tuesday.

The 51-year-old Wilson, who is black, originally filed suit against CNN in 2014, alleging that the company discriminated against him on the basis of race over his 17-year-career at the network. As Deadline reported at the time, the longtime producer was promoted just once, in 2003, despite applying for a dozen job openings.

Wilson was fired in January 2014 after the network accused him of plagiarism; according to the $5 million lawsuit, the real reason for his termination was discrimination, and Wilson further claimed he was unable to find a job at another network after CNN allegedly published false and defamatory statements about him.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, CNN initially brought an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion against Wilson and successfully halted the suit. Under SLAPP laws, in cases involving a media company’s so-called “protected activity” with regard to its right to free speech, a plaintiff must prove the merits of their case before a lawsuit can proceed.

THR reports that a California appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling on Tuesday:

A divided panel at California’s second appellate district takes a review, and despite some case law that indicates staffing decisions by media companies can be linked inextricably with the content of news, and notwithstanding an amicus brief by CBS and others, associate justice Elwood Lui delivers the majority opinion that Wilson is correct in his SLAPP assessment.

“Undoubtedly, a producer or writer shapes the way in which news is reported,” writes Lui. “Thus, defendants‘ choice of who works as a producer or writer is arguably an act in furtherance of defendants‘ right of free speech. But this does not mean that defendants‘ alleged discrimination and retaliation against plaintiff—a long-term, well-reviewed existing employee that CNN had already deemed qualified and acceptable to shape its news reporting—was also an act in furtherance of its speech rights.”

The court’s reversal comes as CNN was hit with another racial discrimination lawsuit this week.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, producer Ricky Blalock accused the network of offering paid training to white employees, while failing to offer African-American employees the same paid training, according to Deadline. Blalock also accused the network of passing him over for a promotion after he filed a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last summer.

Blalock is reportedly seeking $500,000 in damages.

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