Discrimination suit against BET dismissed
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Television personality and blogger B. Scott’s discrimination suit against the Black Entertainment Network was dismissed today after a judge ruled the company had the creative right to ask him to change from women’s to men’s clothing at a pre-awards show last June.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos found that BET’s decision was protected by the First Amendment. She said the network had a right to decide how Scott would dress for the show even if it reflected a change of heart about whether he should wear women’s clothing.
“Maybe they liked it initially, then they decided they didn’t like it,” Palazuelos said.
The lawsuit by Scott, born Brandon Sessoms, was filed Aug. 7, 2013. He alleged he was hired by BET last June to be the style stage correspondent for the pre-BET Awards 2013 show. During the first segment of the show, Scott wore a flowing black tunic and black pants. He maintained that midway through the pre-show he was pulled backstage and told to tone down his feminine look, including removing the women’s heels he was wearing.
Scott, who was born male but now says his gender identity is female, sought $2.5 million in damages from BET’s parent company, Viacom Inc. He also alleged he was supposed to be paid for his work and that the company intentionally caused him to suffer emotional distress.
Scott’s lawyer, Waukeen McCoy, said he will appeal today’s ruling. He said the case was about the alleged discrimination against Scott because of his transgender identification and had nothing to do with his wardrobe. He said Scott has not yet decided whether to have surgery to become transgender.
But BET attorney Richard Kendall said Scott agreed in a telephone conversation with BET Senior Director of Talent Rhonda Cowan that he would appear in male clothing as a condition of accepting the style stage correspondent role.
However, he arrived the day of the BET Awards show in feminine clothing, according to Kendall. Stephen Hill, BET’s president of music programming and specials, told Cowan to inform Scott he could not appear on the air until he changed his apparel, according to Kendall.
Scott complied with the request by putting on a Gucci blue blazer and using light makeup with his hair pulled back, Kendall’s court papers state.
“There is no question this person agreed to appear in a certain way,” Kendall said. “This was a creative decision made under enormous time pressure.”
Kendall declined to comment after the hearing. In his court papers, the lawyer stated that BET had no problem with Scott expressing his gender identity.
“But that does not mean that (Scott) was entitled … to accept a role with a prescribed appearance and then override the producer’s creative vision at the last minute because of (his) sudden desire to perform the role in a wholly different way than the producer had specified,” the defense attorneys’ court papers state. “(Scott’s) attempted use of the employment laws to override creative decisions as to a performer’s look or style challenges the right of television producers to free expression in the production and broadcast of television content.”
A female host filled in during the pre-show as Scott changed, but he later joined her during a break in the presentation.
McCoy said the replacement was herself flamboyantly dressed. But Kendall said that even if the replacement’s attire was not “perfect,” she was still “a woman dressed as a woman.”
Excerpts of Scott’s video deposition taken Dec. 10 are included in the defense attorneys’ court papers. Scott testified that he never agreed to wear “solely men’s clothing” and that he suggested to Cowan that he could perhaps dress like R&B singer Janelle Monae.
“I wanted to make them happy,” Scott testified. “I didn’t understand or I guess at the time it didn’t sink in what was going on, which was trying to get me to do something other than my gender expression. So they wanted to strip me of all the things that I use to present myself and my gender identity.”