Fired editor Tatsha Robertson has filed suit against her former employer People magazine, alleging discriminatory hiring practices, office behavior and editorial focus. Her suit names People magazine, Time Inc., and Betsy Gleick, who was Robertson’s immediate supervisor.
Robertson, who is African-American, moved over to People magazine from fellow Time Inc. publication Essence magazine. During her time there, she was the only African-American editor, and remains the only black senior editor the magazine has ever had, according to the suit.
She suggests that her termination was racially motivated, as she was one of approximately eight African-American employees out of a total staff of approximately 110 people. After a reduction in the magazine’s workforce, only four African-American employees remained.
The suit details Robertson’s award-winning journalism career, dating back to 2006 when she started working at Essence.
After excelling in her coverage of the White House at Essence, according to the suit, Robertson was offered a senior editorial position at People, which she accepted. The suit alleges that she was almost immediately warned about the discriminatory behavior of her new boss, Betsy Gleick.
“You need to talk like everyone else here,” Gleick allegedly told Robertson during one of her first evaluations. “You’re not at Essence anymore.”
The suit goes on to allege that Gleick repeatedly cancelled meetings with Robertson and overlooked her in favor of her white colleagues. She further left her off of important emails, failed to invite her to work events and allowed other senior editors to do stories within her area, according to the legal filing.
The suit quotes Gleick as saying the magazine’s only interest is in stories concerning “white middle-class suburbia.” Gleick allegedly rejected a story about the murder of a black model because she looked like a “slut,” telling Robertson, “You know the rule — white suburban women in distress.” A similar story involving a white model ran in the magazine a month later.
The suit details the dearth of African-Americans on the cover of People magazine as well, staying that black individuals were the main cover feature in only three out of 60 published issues in 2013, continuing in 2014 with three out of 27, so far. These percentages are on par with the past several years at the magazine, according to the suit.
When Trayvon Marton was on the cover, the suit alleges that “Gleick repeatedly questioned whether he was a ‘good kid,’ yet never made similar efforts to vet white victims of crime.”
In back up her claims of a racial bias in her firing, Robertson’s suit states that she had more cover stories, and second cover stories, than anyone on her team in 2013. Further, the suit adds that she was never disciplined for performance issues or written up during her time there.
And yet, she was one of only two editors terminated, and the only person who reported to Gleick terminated, according to the document.
“One can only imagine that it will be ‘business as usual’ at People magazine going forward — more white people on covers, more stories about white people, and a completely dismissive attitude towards African-American employees.
She is seeking a cessation of discriminatory practices at her former employer as well as an unspecified amount of damages. Robertson is further seeking a jury trial.
Robertson is represented by David E. Gottlieb and Michael J. Willemin of Wigdor LLP.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.