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BET & Viacom Settle Discrimination Suit With Ex-Original Programming Head

Dominic Patten

Just more than two months after it looked like all sides were solidly locked in a legal battle, Viacom and BET today announced they’ve come to a settlement with Zola Mashariki in the former executive’s discrimination suit.

“As Head of Original Programming, Zola Mashariki brought fresh new content and top-notch talent to BET Networks,” BET said in a statement to Deadline on Tuesday. “We thank Ms. Mashariki for her many valuable contributions, and our thoughts are with her and her family as she focuses on her health. The litigation between the parties has been resolved. Neither party will make any further comment on this matter.”

After a disputed pink-slipping in March while Mashariki says she was still on medical leave for breast cancer, she launched a gender-discrimination and wrongful-termination lawsuit against BET, its parent company and former BET president of programming Stephen Hill on May 3.

On Monday, Mashariki and the corporate defendants filed joint paperwork in federal court to see the matter closed. “Plaintiff’s entire First Amended Complaint against Defendants … including all claims alleged therein, is hereby dismissed with prejudice,” said the stipulation of December 11 (read it here). The proposed order is sure to be rubber-stamped by Judge Philip Gutierrez.

It’s a far cry from late September, when lawyers for BET, Viacom and Hill said Mashariki’s “First Amended Complaint and each of its purported claims for relief fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” in their response. Failing in their efforts in August to see the matter tossed, all parties seemed set to pursue the suit to a jury trial after Mashariki filed an amended complaint September 14.

With sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations sweeping through Hollywood and the industry’s upper echelons in recent months, perhaps that new context offers some indication as to why this potential messy suit has been resolved before it got in front of a jury. In her initial complaint, Mashariki claimed there was and is a “misogynistic culture” at BET. In reaction, BET and Viacom asserted, “We are committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse workplace that supports the success of all employees.”

Perhaps, in the current Tinseltown environment and #MeToo uprising, they were committed to getting a potential PR nightmare off the public radar.

Mashariki is represented by a team of lawyers from Oakland’s Medina Orthwein LLP, and the Washington D.C. and San Francisco offices of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP. Viacom, BET and Hill are represented by attorneys from Los Angeles’ Paul Hastings LLP.

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