NeNe Leakes sues Real Housewives of Atlanta production team for ‘tolerating racism’ on set

·3-min read
NeNe Leakes sues Real Housewives of Atlanta production team for ‘tolerating racism’ on set

NeNe Leakes, a former star of Real Housewives of Atlanta, has sued the companies behind the show, alleging that they fostered and tolerated a hostile and racist work environment.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Atlanta on Wednesday (20 April) says Leakes, who is Black, complained to executives about years of racist remarks from fellow “housewife” Kim Zolciak-Biermann, who is white, but that only Leakes suffered consequences.

NBCUniversal, Bravo, production companies True Entertainment and Truly Original, executives from the companies and Real Housewives executive producer Andy Cohen, are named as defendants in the documents. Zolciak-Biermann is not named in the suit.

“NBC, Bravo and True foster a corporate and workplace culture in which racially-insensitive and inappropriate behaviour is tolerated – if not, encouraged,” the suit says.

Emails sent to representatives of the defendants and Zolciak-Biermann seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Leakes, 54, a TV personality and actor whose legal name is Linnethia Monique Leakes, spent seven seasons as one of the central stars of 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.’”

Real Housewives of Atlanta cast in 2010 with Leakes (far left) and Zolciak-Biermann (far right) (Getty Images)
Real Housewives of Atlanta cast in 2010 with Leakes (far left) and Zolciak-Biermann (far right) (Getty Images)

The suit says the statement “perpetuated an offensive stereotype about African-Americans”.

The papers also point toward “racially offensive and stereotypical” comments made by Zolciak-Biermann during the fifth season, while visiting the new home of co-star Kandi Burruss, calling her neighbourhood a “ghetto” and perpetuating a racial stereotype in an offensive comment about whether Burruss needed a swimming pool.

That same year, the suit alleges, Zolciak-Biermann used the N-word to refer to Leakes and other of the housewives after a dispute with them. It also claims Zolciak-Biermann falsely implied that Leakes used drugs and called her home a “roach nest.”.

The suit says that after Leakes’s 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 behaviour”, 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’s 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”.

The lawsuit alleges that her complaints of racism led in part to Leakes being forced off the show in 2020 before its 13th season.

The suit says Leakes’s negotiations for the season came as the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining major momentum, with Leakes a vocal supporter.

Executives sought to sideline Leakes from talking about the cause, keeping her off early episodes in which the housewives would address BLM, the suit alleges.

“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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