LOS ANGELES — Former star of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” NeNe Leakes sued the companies behind the show on Wednesday, alleging that they fostered and tolerated a hostile and racist work environment.
According to the lawsuit, Leakes (Black) complained about Kim Zolciak–Biermann’s racist comments over years. However, only Leakes was able to sue.
It names as defendants NBCUniversal, Bravo, production companies True Entertainment and Truly Original, executives from the companies and “Housewives” executive producer Andy Cohen, but not Zolciak-Biermann.
“NBC, Bravo and True foster a corporate and workplace culture in which racially-insensitive and inappropriate behavior is tolerated – if not, encouraged,” the suit says.
Representatives for NBCUniversal declined comment. Replies to Zolciak and Biermann seeking comments were not returned by email.
Leakes, 54, a TV personality and actor whose legal name is Linnethia Monique Leakes, spent seven seasons as one of the central stars of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” between 2008 and 2020.
It alleges that during the first season, which aired in 2008, the cast was planning to attend a barbecue, and housewife Kim Zolciak-Biermann, responded to the idea with “words to the effect of: ‘I don’t want to sit around with NeNe and eat chicken.’” The suit says the statement “perpetuated an offensive stereotype about African-Americans.”
The suit says in 2012 during the fifth season, Zolciak-Biermann made “racially offensive and stereotypical” comments about the new home of housewife Kandi Burruss, calling her neighborhood a “ghetto” and perpetuating a racial stereotype in an offensive comment about whether Burruss needed a swimming pool.
The suit claims that Zolciak Biermann, who was also suing, used the N-word after a disagreement with Leakes to refer to Leakes, and to other housewives, in the same year. It also alleges Zolciak-Biermann falsely implied that Leakes used drugs and called her home a “roach nest.”
The suit says after Leakes complaints to the executives overseeing the show, they “did not terminate their relationship with Zolciak-Biermann, nor take any other meaningful action to put an end to her racially-offensive behavior,” and if anything rewarded her by giving her her own spinoff show.
“From the day the series began filming, NeNe was the target of systemic racism from co-star Kim Zolciak-Biermann, which was tolerated by Bravo executive producer Andy Cohen and other executives,” Leakes’ lawyer David deRubertis said in a statement.
Joe Habachy, another Leakes’ attorney, said via email that “not a day goes by that NeNe doesn’t wake up with an onslaught of overwhelming emotions as a direct result of these unfortunate and avoidable occurrences.”
Leakes’ complaints about racism were alleged to have led to Leakes being removed from the program in 2020 just before its 13th year.
The suit says Leakes’ negotiations for the season came as the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining major momentum, with Leakes a vocal supporter.
Leakes was prevented by executives from speaking out about her cause. This kept Leakes away early episodes where the housewives were expected to address BLM and the allegations.
“As the Black Lives Matter movement swept our nation, Mrs. Leakes — Bravo’s historically most successful Black female talent — should have been embraced by NBC, Bravo, and True,” the suit says. “Instead, NBC, Bravo, and True forced her out of the ‘house she built,’ denying her a regular role.”
The suit alleges that the defendants’ actions violate federal employment and anti-discrimination law, and it seeks monetary damages to be determined at trial.
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