LOS ANGELES — Oscar-winning actress and comedian Mo'Nique sued Netflix on Thursday, accusing the streaming giant of racial and gender discrimination by trying to drastically underpay her for a stand-up special after offering other stars tens of millions of dollars.
The suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court accuses Netflix of giving a “biased, discriminatory” offer to Mo'Nique for a one-hour comedy special around November 2017.
In the 39-page filing, Mo’Nique calls out everyone from the top executives of the Netflix management team to highlighting the gender wage gap and lack of diversity in Hollywood.
“Despite Mo’Nique’s extensive résumé and documented history of comedic success, when Netflix presented her with an offer of employment for an exclusive stand-up comedy special, Netflix made a lowball offer that was only a fraction of what Netflix paid other (non-Black female) comedians,” according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and was filed on her behalf by attorneys at the deRubertis Law Firm, APC and Schimmel & Parks, APLC.
The comedian was offered $500,000 as a “talent fee,” an offer the lawsuit claims was significantly less than those offered to men and white women for the same type of stand-up original specials.
“When the talent was not a Black woman, Netflix offered to pay, and did pay, astronomically more than it pays to Black women like it offered to Mo'Nique,” the lawsuit said.
In a statemented posted on Instagram, Mo'Nique said Thursday she had a choice to make, "I could accept what I felt was pay discrimination or I could stand up for those who came before me and those who will come after me."
"i chose to stand up," she said.
Netflix disputes the claims and has vowed to challenge the suit.
"We care deeply about inclusion, equity, and diversity and take any accusations of discrimination very seriously," a Netflix spokesperson told NBC News on Thursday. "We believe our opening offer to Mo'Nique was fair — which is why we will be fighting this lawsuit."
The suit said Netflix reportedly signed a $100 million deal in 2017 with comedian Jerry Seinfeld for two stand-up specials and an interview series. It also said Netflix reportedly signed a deal with comedian Dave Chapelle in 2016 worth $60 million in 2016 for three specials.
Chris Rock was reportedly offered a $40 million deal with Netflix in 2016 for two specials, the lawsuit said, and Ricky Gervais was reportedly also offered $40 million for a two-show deal around 2016.
The lawsuit goes on to allege Netflix initially offered comedian Amy Schumer $11 million in 2017 for an hourlong special and that she was able to negotiate an increase to $13 million over the offers made to Chapelle and Rock.
“Thus, Netflix reportedly offered or paid Rock, Chapelle, Degeneris, and Gervais forty (40) times more per show than it offered Mo’Nique, and it offered Schumer twenty-six (26) times more per show than Mo’Nique,” the lawsuit said. “In short, Netflix’s offer to Mo’Nique perpetuates the drastic wage gap forced upon Black women in America’s workforce.”
The lawsuit claims that Netflix lacked diversity in its leadership and reportedly turned a blind eye or did not act quickly enough when a senior executive and an actor in a series used racist language.
The filing claims Netflix’s Board of Directors has “historically lacked racial diversity and, instead, has been white-only for years. For years, the Board lacked even one Black member — let alone, a Black female” and highlights “in 2018 and 2019 respectively, Netflix reported that only 4% and 6% of its workforce being comprised of Black employees. In other words, while its senior management specifically lacks racial diversity, Netflix’s workforce generally also underrepresents Black workers compared to the general population.”
Netflix reportedly allowed actor Kevin Spacey to repeatedly make racist remarks, including using the N-word, while he worked on its series “House of Cards,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit also claims that in early 2018, Netflix’s then Chief Communications Officer Jonathan Friedland used the N-word in a meeting. Multiple employees reportedly complained, according to the lawsuit, which led to Friedland apologizing.
Later, Friedland reportedly met with black human resources employees and used the N-word again in retelling the incident, according to the lawsuit. Months later, Friedland allegedly was invited to speak in front of black employees and did not apologize for his remark.
It was only after that that Netflix fired Friedland and acknowledged he “showed unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity,” according to the suit.
Last year, Mo'Nique spoke out about the $500,000 offer she received and called for people to boycott Netflix “for gender and color bias.”
“Netflix is one of Hollywood’s most innovative companies, yet it not only perpetuates racial and gender inequality, it also takes advantage of a gender pay gap that disproportionately affects black women,” said Mo’Nique’s lawyer, Michael W. Parks. “When Mo’Nique, one of the most well-known black female comedians in America, faced that anachronistic attitude, she knew it was time to challenge the status quo.”
David M. deRubertis, who also represents Mo'Nique, said, “In recent years, the spotlight has appropriately shined on the gender pay inequities that continue to plague the American workforce. By this lawsuit, Mo’Nique is taking a stand against the most severe pay gap of all: the pay gap experienced by black women in the American workforce.”
After Mo'Nique came forward, fellow comedian Wanda Sykes also said she had been “offended” by a previous low offer from Netflix, which she rejected.
Sykes went on to later have a comedy special with the streaming service.
When asked at a conference earlier this year what made the difference this time around, Sykes said, “They moved that comma.”
The filing highlighted the gender pay disparity between actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith on the Netflix series "The Crown," where it was revealed Foy was being paid significantly less than her counterpart on the show, which later prompted an apology from show producers.
Earlier this year, Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos told the Makers Conference in California that the controversy over the pay disparity led the company to review talent salaries in its original and third-party series and make some pay adjustments, according to Deadline.
"What it did for us is, it had us go back and look at all of our productions and all of our productions that were being run by third parties, to make sure none of those disparities existed," he said at the time.
Diana Dasrath reported from Los Angeles, Daniella Silva reported from New York.