Kanye West Sued by Yeezy Staff Over Alleged Illegal Labor Conditions and Hostile, Racist Environment

Kanye West and Milo Yiannopoulos are being accused of engaging in “forced labor and cruel inhuman, or degrading treatment” toward the team brought on to create the app that the rapper-mogul hoped would compete with Tidal and other streaming players, according to a lawsuit filed this weekend in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California states that West and Yeezy LLC, West’s company, hired developers who had created the YZYVSN streaming service app. For the release of his Vultures project with Ty Dolla $ign, the controversial pop culture player and Yeezy intended to promote the project on the new platform, which fans had made to work with the artist. According to the lawsuit, West intended the app to help him avoid paying promotional fees to Tidal, Apple Music and other streamers.

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In March, eight developers began working for Yeezy on the YZYVSN project, but according to the suit, instead of working with their music hero on a dream project, they found themselves subject to racist and degrading language by West and Yiannopoulos, his chief of staff and the controversial former Breitbart News editor. West’s wife, Bianca Censori, while working on the Yeezy Porn project, allegedly sent a file-sharing link to pornography to a group of individuals that included a 14-year-old who was working on the project.

“No guardrails were put in place to prevent the underage YZYVSN workers from working on Yeezy Porn, or to prevent them from being exposed to and being forced to view pornography to perform their work,” the lawsuit states.

Yiannopoulos eventually left Yeezy due to clashes over the Yeezy Porn adult film company concept.

The suit states the remote international team of Yeezy staffers, who met on platforms like Discord, Zoom and Slack, was “regularly and viciously bullied” over simple personal aspects, including, “ages, races, genders, sexual orientation, and national origins/ethnicities.”

“Some team members were called ‘slaves’ while another group chat referred to team members as ‘new slaves,’” the complaint says. In early April, the team was promised $120,000 in pay if they “completed the app,” as Yeezy would acquire it. But soon they were being forced to sign nondisclosure agreements — and threatened with termination of employment and no pay if they refused to sign, the suit states.

The employees who were minors and therefore subject to an entirely different set of more stringent laws and protections were required to sign on as “volunteers” at the company and would therefore not be paid.

While working, team members claim they were frequently subjected to racist language by the white management at Yeezy. Yiannopoulos at one point allegedly sent a brown-skinned-styled emoji to a Black Yeezy staffer; one younger team member was referred to as a school shooter; Slack chatrooms named “Slaves” and “New Slaves” (the latter of which is the title of a popular track on the 2013 West album Yeezus) remained until a Black team member, Shemar DaCosta, made a request they be altered.

In the lawsuit, the former Yeezy staffers seek payment for unpaid wages that were promised and attorney fees, as well as damages for emotional distress. The complaint alleges they were subject to forced labor, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under the Alien Tort statute. They also allege failure to pay wages and overtime, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and several causes of action under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Yeezy’s PR team sent a statement from Yiannopolis to The Hollywood Reporter on Monday night that it says addresses the lawsuit “from his alleged app developers.” Yiannopolis states that he has been permitted to speak on behalf of Censori and says that he must “stress that any allegation that she showed or caused to be shown any pornographic material to minors is offensive, disgusting, abhorrent and categorically and wholly false.”

In the statement, Yiannopolis characterizes DaCosta as “the Yeezy staffer behind this egregious and repulsive pack of lies,” then goes on to lob insults and claim that DaCosta misrepresented himself to get a position at the company. At one point in the public statement, which may have been drawn heavily from the former chief of staff’s own posts on X.com on the matter, Yiannopolis seems to be writing directly to DaCosta to inform him that he will never have an opportunity to work at Yeezy, the company DaCosta is currently suing and where Yiannopolis is no longer employed. The statement is perplexing at times, as DaCosta is referred to as a “Yeezy staffer” but then admonished in the next paragraph for having claimed to have a top role as an employee there, as Yiannopolis writes, “He claimed to be a lead developer for Yeezy. He has never worked at Yeezy.”

“There’s a simple reason DaCosta’s clownish claim — that minors were shown Yeezy Porn — isn’t true and can’t be true. Yeezy Porn doesn’t exist,” he wrote in the statement. “I made sure of that by falling on my sword and quitting over it. All I’ve done since is try to get these app developers paid, as voluminous correspondence demonstrates.”

West’s attorney Brian Brumfield has not responded to a comment request from The Hollywood Reporter made on Monday, and the artist has not publicly commented on the suit. On Sunday, before issuing his statement, Yiannopoulos tweeted about the complaint, dismissing it as the retaliation of a disgruntled employee.

“A joke lawsuit just dropped led by a disgruntled, comically inept Black developer I call Hotep Susan who is mad he didn’t get chosen for a full-time Yeezy job,” Yiannopoulos wrote. “My question: Why did he need one, given his record of FAKING job history (including Yeezy roles he never held)? I’ll eviscerate the complaint line by line tomorrow on camera, including his bonkers racism claims. Truly, it’s the most dishonest thing I’ve ever seen filed with a court. (And I’ve worked for billionaires and megastars for a decade.) He has no standing and doesn’t represent either of the acquired apps. Just wait until you read it. Another sad race hustle. It’s a No from me, Susan, as in Not. One. Dime.”

In addition to this suit, West is facing several other legal complaints, including a sexual harassment suit from a former staffer and a claim from Diana Ross over a sample. In 2022, Rolling Stone reported on staffers at Yeezy complaining about pornography in the workplace and other misconduct there; West has admitted to pornography addiction and how it has been detrimental to his life.

July 2, 8:49 a.m. This story has been updated with a statement from Yiannopoulos, shared by Yeezy’s PR team.

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