A former director for a digital marketing agency in Los Angeles is suing her ex-employer, alleging she was fired in May for complaining about disparate treatment and inappropriate comments in the workplace, including “Black people don’t do snow sports.”
Lamees Barnett’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against MuteSix Group Inc. alleges racial discrimination and harassment, retaliation and wrongful discharge. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
A MuteSix representative could not be immediately reached for comment on the complaint filed Tuesday.
Barnett, 29, had a master’s degree and more than five years of progressive marketing experience when she was hired at MuteSix in November 2016, according to her court papers. She worked as a campaign manager until July 2018, when she was promoted to a digital marketing director and became the only Black person at the company to lead a team as a director, according to her lawsuit.
Prior to her promotion, MuteSix required Barnett to sit before a panel of about a six directors who “grilled her in a fashion reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition,” asking her “numerous detailed and intrusive questions” about why she deserved a promotion, the suit says.
Barnett was cross-examined by the panel in a manner that made her feel that MuteSix management would limit her professional advancement solely because she was Black, despite her past accomplishments and loyalty to the company, the suit states.
The next two employees who were promoted to director were both male and neither had to answer a similar series of questions, according to the plaintiff.
MuteSix management dismissed her claims about discrimination and criticized her for speaking out against her alleged unequal treatment, according to the complaint. She was called “combative,” “emotional” and “argumentative,” which she believed were racially coded comments typically made against Black women, the suit states.
One manager during a team meeting asked Barnett if she could swim, which she considered a racial trope, the suit states.
“This dog whistle tactic demeaned, undermined and embarrassed plaintiff in front of her peers,” the suit alleges.
In 2019, a MuteSix director said during a meeting that “Black people don’t do snow sports,” according to the suit.
“This open derogation of plaintiff caused her personal and professional harm and MuteSix did nothing,” the suit states.
Another manager limited Barnett’s opportunities and steered her to make company pitches to Black-owned companies, such as UOMA Beauty and Memebox, the suit alleges.
For the majority of Barnett’s employment with MuteSix, the company had no employee handbook or written policy to provide guidance on how to report the type mistreatment alleged by the plaintiff. In addition, MuteSix did not have a human resources department to address complaints and otherwise oversee MuteSix’s compliance with labor laws, the suit states.
Barnett was fired May 4 and was told her dismissal was based on poor performance, even though she had consistently received positive feedback for her work, the suit says. She believes she lost her job in retaliation for her attempts to address alleged racial and gender discrimination at the company.
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