CNN writer/producer Ricky Blalock files racial discrimination lawsuit

The CNN main newsroom in Atlanta in September, 2014. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

The CNN main newsroom in Atlanta in September, 2014. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Friday, December 11, 2015

A black CNN writer/producer Ricky L. Blalock filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against CNN in the U.S. Northern District of the Northern District Thursday.

Blalock, 51, who has worked at CNN since 2010, claimed he and other black employees were passed over for promotions.

He said he is the only black male writer producer in Atlanta out of more than 40 writer producers at CNN Center (though there are black females.)

Blalock filed a similar complaint in August with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and said he was subsequently passed over for a higher level job, which he believes was given to an under-qualified white woman instead.

Blalock, in the lawsuit, said whites were given paid “on the job training” for higher level positions such as copy editor, opportunities he said he was denied.

CNN “intentionally and willfully violated Mr. Blalock’s right to be free from race-based discrimination in his employment,” his lawsuit alleges.

Blalock, who said he has been in the journalism business for 20 years including a stint at WAGA-TV, started as a freelance writer for CNN International. He moved to the U.S. side, the lawsuit said, in 2012. He was given a full-time position later that year as a writer/producer, working weekends with Fredricka Whitfield and Mondays and Tuesdays on a mid-day show with Suzanne Malveaux.

Later, he worked with Ashleigh Banfield while maintaining his main assignment with Whitfield’s weekend newscasts.

A CNN spokeswoman declined comment.

This is not the first lawsuit against CNN in which racial discrimination is cited. In October, 2014, a field producer in Los Angeles Stanley Wilson filed a $5 million wrongful termination suit against CNN. He blamed Peter Janos, who served as Wilson’s immediate or general supervisor for his entire 17 years at CNN. The lawsuit said Janos “never liked Plaintiff and never wanted him at the [Los Angeles] bureau because of Plaintiff’s protected characteristics, including his race, color and ancestry, among other things.”

According to that lawsuit, “In 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, Plaintiff verbally complained to the CNN Senior Vice-President of Human Resources (HR) that African-American men outside of Atlanta, D.C., and New York were not being promoted. Plaintiff complained that Janos was an important actor in the wholesale discrimination against African-American men in the hiring and promotion of staff producers and television photographers in Los Angeles. Plaintiff also complained of concerns that his age and compensation package were increasingly being viewed as a liability.” (I’m seeking an update on the status of that case.)

After that lawsuit, the National Association of Black Journalists sent out a press release expressing concern about “the atmosphere for African Americans at CNN.” It noted that key on-air black talent such as Soledad O’Brien, TJ Holmes and Malveaux had left the company and at the time, there were only two black executive producers.

In Blalock’s lawsuit, he said he asked a question directly to CNN president Jeff Zucker in an open employee meeting about the “disappearance” of blacks in key management roles at the company, reflecting those concerns.

He said in December, 2014, after his direct supervisor (also black) filed a racial discrimination charge against CNN and was soon pushed out. He said the supervisor was the only black executive producer within CNN’s primary U.S. locations at the time. The lawsuit claims other instances of other blacks being denied “on the job” training as well.

Blalock is asking for compensatory damages of at least $500,000.

I have heard there are multiple EEOC complaints against CNN but virtually all have been settled in mediation, with the aggrieved paid off to say nothing publicly. I will have to go over to the EEOC offices to get them. (They are not available online.) I will update this with any new information I glean next week.


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