B. Scott’s lawsuit against BET and Viacom brings up questions of precedence. Have there been previous cases like this before the court? And do the verdicts favor B. Scott or BET?
To recap: B. Scott was supposed to host the the annual BET Awards’ red carpet pre-show. Shortly after it began, he was pulled from the show, told that his look “wasn’t appropriate,” and was replaced by Adrienne Bailon. Now, B. Scott is asking for $2.5 million in damages and an apology.
In a statement, he said, in part, “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…”
Adding that his “spirit” lies “somewhere in between,” he stated, “I accept and welcome the ‘transgender’ label with open arms. It is also by that definition that BET and Viacom willingly and wrongfully discriminated against my gender identity during the 2013 BET Awards Pre-Show.”
Last month, BET responded to the situation with this statement:
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.
What’s strange about this situation is Scott’s assertion that the outfit he’d originally chosen — a black tunic and pants — had been pre-approved. So the issue arose after he was already on camera and had completed the first segment.
Scott’s lawsuit adds that no one else was “restricted” in their attire reports E! Online, and lots of women were “twerking” in skimpy skirts and other outfits “without incident.”
We turned to our contributor Karen Francis, who’s also a media attorney by day, for some facts about the history of discrimination lawsuits that involve members of the LGBT community. She turned to the Human Rights Campaign, which says on its website that employers have the right “to establish employee dress code and grooming guidelines during work hours if they are reasonable and serve a legitimate business purpose.” Acceptable instances include to protect corporate image, the health and well-being of staff (for instance, requiring enclosed footwear in places where things can hurt a person’s foot) and to make employees “visible to the public,” like a policeman’s uniform.
“It will be interesting to see if there are any provisions, specifically relating to cross-dressing, that were added to the contract between B. Scott and BET. Since Scott was hired as a ‘Style Stage Correspondent,’ image, dress and fashion would have been on the forefront of both parties’ minds when the employment contract was signed,” Francis wrote in an email to me.
She says the courts have been “mixed” in their decisions regarding cases with transgendered people. However, last year “the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined that ‘an employer who discriminates against an employee or applicant on the basis of the person’s gender identity is violating the prohibition on sex discrimination contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.’ This was an unprecedented decision by the EEOC, and the first time that it has ‘provided any guidance on the extent to which Title VII’s sex discrimination prohibition applies to transgender employees.'” This case, she says, will be litigated in California, where they do have laws on the books specifically addressing transgender discrimination.
The outcome is yet to be seen, but this case is sure to make an impact on the progress that the LGBT community is making in the eyes of the law.
How do you think it will turn out?