NeNe Leakes, a former star of The Real Housewives of Atlantasued the companies behind the show on Wednesday, alleging they encouraged and condoned a hostile and racist work environment.
The lawsuit in Atlanta federal court says Leakes, who is black, complained to executives for years about racist remarks by fellow housewife Kim Zolciak-Biermann, who is white, but whom only Leakes has suffered consequences.
The lawsuit names as defendants NBCUniversal, Bravo, the production companies True Entertainment and Truly Original, the companies’ executives and Housewives executive producer Andy Cohen, but not Zolciak-Biermann.
“NBC, Bravo and True foster a corporate and work culture in which racially insensitive and inappropriate behavior is tolerated and even encouraged,” the lawsuit states.
Representatives for NBCUniversal declined to comment.
Emails sent to representatives for the other defendants and Zolciak-Biermann seeking comment were not immediately returned.
The co-star made “racially offensive and stereotypical” comments
Leakes, 54, a television personality and actor whose legal name is Linnethia Monique Leakes, spent seven seasons as one of the central stars of The Real Housewives of Atlanta between 2008 and 2020.
The lawsuit alleges that during the first season, which aired in 2008, the cast planned to attend a barbecue, and Zolciak-Biermann responded to the idea with “words to the effect of, ‘I don’t want not sit with NeNe and eat chicken.” The suit says the statement “perpetuated an offensive stereotype about African Americans.”
The lawsuit says that in 2012, during the fifth season, Zolciak-Biermann made “racially offensive and stereotypical” comments about housewife Kandi Burruss’ new home, calling her neighborhood a “ghetto” and perpetuating a racial stereotype in an offensive comment on whether Burruss needs a pool.
That same year, according to the suit, Zolciak-Biermann used the N-word to refer to leakers and other housewives after an argument with them, according to the suit. He also alleges that Zolciak-Biermann falsely implied that Leakes used drugs and referred to his home as a “cockroach’s nest.”
The lawsuit says that after Leakes complained to executives overseeing the show, they “did not end their relationship with Zolciak-Biermann or take any other meaningful action to end his racist behavior,” and, if so, have rewarded her by giving her a spin-off show.
“From the day the show began filming, NeNe has been the target of systemic racism from co-star Kim Zolciak-Biermann, which was condoned by Bravo executive producer Andy Cohen and other executives,” said Leakes attorney David deRubertis said in a statement.
Leakes says she was forced off the show over alleged racism
Joe Habachy, another of Leakes’ attorneys, said via email “not a day goes by that NeNe doesn’t wake up to a wave of overwhelming emotions as a direct result of these unfortunate and preventable events.”
The lawsuit alleges his complaints of racism partly led to Leakes’ expulsion from the show in 2020, ahead of its 13th season.
The suit indicates that Leakes’ negotiations for the season came as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, with Leakes a strong supporter.
Executives sought to block Leakes from speaking about the cause, keeping her out of early episodes in which the Housewives would address BLM, according to the suit.
“As the Black Lives Matter movement swept our country, Ms. Leakes – Bravo’s historically most successful black female talent – should have been embraced by NBC, Bravo and True,” the suit reads. “Instead, NBC, Bravo and True forced her out of the ‘house she built,’ denying her a regular role.”
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ actions violate federal employment and anti-discrimination law, and seeks monetary damages to be determined at trial.