A Black former director for a digital marketing agency in Los Angeles has agreed to arbitrate her claims she was fired last May for complaining about disparate treatment and inappropriate comments in the workplace.
Lamees Barnett’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against MuteSix Group Inc. was filed Aug. 25. She alleges racial discrimination and harassment, retaliation and wrongful discharge and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Lawyers for MuteSix on Jan. 5 filed a motion to compel arbitration, arguing in their court papers that Barnett signed an agreement to submit all employment claims to binding arbitration when she was hired in November 2016. The two sides subsequently agreed to arbitrate the case and on Jan. 21, Judge Malcolm Mackey placed the lawsuit on hold and set a post-arbitration status conference for July 20.
Barnett, 29, had a master’s degree and more than five years of progressive marketing experience when she was hired at MuteSix, 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 claims she 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 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 her court papers. She was called “combative,” “emotional” and “argumentative,” which she believed were racially coded comments typically made against Black women, the suit states.
During a team meeting, one manager 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 says she was fired last May 4 and was told her dismissal was based on poor performance, even though she had consistently received positive feedback for her work. She maintains she lost her job in retaliation for her attempts to address alleged racial and gender discrimination at the company.
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