B. Scott, a transgender TV host and popular Internet personality with a successful website, sued BET Networks on Tuesday for $2.5 million, stemming from an incident that took place at the 2013 BET Awards. He is claiming gender-identity and gender-expression discrimination along with five other complaints, after he says he was pulled from his hosting job for dressing in women's clothing.
In legal paperwork filed with Los Angeles Superior Court and posted to his website, B. Scott (real name: Brandon Sessoms) is suing for compensatory damages based upon gender-identity and gender-expression discrimination, sexual-orientation discrimination, violation of the Civil Rights Act, breach of contract, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
B. Scott claims that while he was working as a Style Stage Correspondent on June 30 for the 2013 BET Awards "106 & Park" Pre-Show, producers pulled him from the red carpet and asked him to wear men's clothing, even though the women's clothing he originally wore had been pre-approved by the network and the broadcast's sponsors. However, "after his first segment, B. Scott was literally yanked backstage and told that he 'wasn't acceptable.' He was told to mute the makeup, pull back his hair, and he was forced to remove his clothing and take off his heels; thereby completely changing his gender identity and expression."
The lawsuit adds that he was then "forced to change into solely men's clothing." He claims he was not allowed to keep presenting and that the network then replaced him with "The Real" co-host Adrienne Bailon. Later, when he claims the network learned the error of their ways, B. Scott claims he was added back at the very end of the show in a diminished capacity as a co-host alongside Bailon.
B. Scott has a history of working with BET, having appeared on their show "106 & Park" twice before. In the lawsuit, he points out that his transgender persona and manner of appearance are well known from those past appearances.
BET had no comment when reached. However, on July 2, they issued the following statement on the matter: "BET Networks embraces global diversity in all its forms and seeks to maintain an inclusive workforce and a culture that values all perspectives and backgrounds. The incident with B. Scott was a singular one with a series of unfortunate miscommunications from both parties. We regret any unintentional offense to B. Scott and anyone within the LGBT community and we seek to continue embracing all gender expressions."
In a statement posted to his website on Wednesday, B. Scott wrote, "While I want nothing more than to put this incident behind me and move on with my life, I still wholeheartedly believe that I'm entitled to a true public apology. BET's non-apology statement added more insult to injury. What happened to me was not a 'miscommunication' nor was it 'unintentional'. It was wrong. I have been vehemently trying to come to a resolution with BET and Viacom behind the scenes. After a few weeks of back and forth dialogue with no foreseeable resolution, I have filed a lawsuit against BET and its parent company Viacom for discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation."
B. Scott first posted on his site about the incident on July 1, the day after the BET Awards. "It's not just about the fact that BET forced me to pull my hair back, asked me to take off my makeup, made me change my clothes and prevented me from wearing a heel. It's more so that from the mentality and environment created by BET made me feel less than and that something was wrong with who I am as a person," he wrote at that time.
omg! spoke on Thursday with Waukeen McCoy, B. Scott's attorney, who elaborated further on why his client filed this lawsuit. "Discrimination is wrong in any form, especially in a corporate environment like BET," he said. "There's no place for discrimination in any situation. For the last month we've gone back and forth with [BET] trying to get the situation resolved amicably with a public apology as well as compensation, but we were not able to reach a resolution."
McCoy, who helped successfully defend marriage equality for same-sex couples before the California Supreme Court and won one of the nation's largest discrimination verdicts (for $132 million) against the parent company of Wonder Bread, hopes that this case will begin a national conversation about transgender discrimination. "I think there should be a dialogue about this issue," he explained. "I think the transgender community has not been well represented. A lot of things that a lot of people are saying are offensive. I hope this case will bring these issues to the forefront of people's thoughts."
McCoy says that he and his client feel BET's previous statement was not sufficient. "We're looking for something more — an apology directed personally to B. Scott. I think they should apologize to him on their programming. The apology they gave was not it. I think it should be more."
"People who do not reflect society's expectations of gender norms too often face discrimination simply because of who they are," a rep for GLAAD tells Yahoo! TV in a statement. "Media outlets have a responsibility to help end that stigma by showcasing LGBT people who represent all facets of their audience."
omg! spoke with Dr. Timothy Patrick McCarthy, the director of the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School, to shed some perspective on the situation. "B. Scott’s recent experiences with discrimination at BET place into sharp relief a number of important things related to the ongoing struggle for equal rights and human dignity," he explains.
"First, it highlights the precarious position that LGBT people continue to occupy in all facets of society, especially if we choose, as B. Scott does, to blur or reject rigid conceptions of gender, masculinity, and femininity. Second, it reinforces, yet again, the urgent need for transgender-inclusive policies, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace. Third, it forces us to have a more substantive conversation about — and make a more serious commitment to — diversity and inclusion in the media and entertainment industry, in corporate America, and in public life more generally."
Professor McCarthy sees this incident as an chance for BET to step up to the plate in terms of leading a new conversation about truly inclusive diversity. "Given BET’s unique position as a trailblazer in American culture, the network has an opportunity here to send a clear message about the importance of all forms of diversity. That a talented gay and transgender entertainer cannot express himself fully and freely within BET’s ranks suggests that the company has squandered this opportunity. In a world where LGBT people of color are routinely subjected to multiple and disproportionate forms of discrimination, BET can and should be part of the solution, not the problem."