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YouTuber James Charles breaks silence to accuse former employee suing him for wrongful termination of 'blackmail'

Charles went silent on social media last month after a sexting scandal allegedly involving underage boys.
Image: James Charles
James Charles attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York on Monday, May 6, 2019.Charles Sykes / /Invision/AP

Breaking his self-imposed silence after a sexting scandal allegedly involving underage boys, YouTube sensation James Charles returned to social media Monday saying he is being “blackmailed” by a former employee suing him for wrongful termination — a claim the employee denies.

“I feel as though I’m being cornered,” the 21-year old known for makeup looks and ceaseless controversies said in an almost 8-minute-long video on Twitter, viewed by NBC News.

Charles, whose legal name is James Charles Dickinson, is being sued by Kelly Rocklein, who worked for him for six months in 2018 before she was fired.

In the complaint, Rocklein alleges Charles required her to work 12 hour days, seven days a week, after he gave her a promotion from video editor to producer but didn’t hire a replacement for her old position. She said she was never given overtime or double time.

In addition to the alleged wage violations, she also claims she suffered discrimination and retaliation while working for Charles.

On Sept. 4, 2018, she “suffered a head injury while in the presence of Mr. Dickinson that resulted in her experiencing headaches, temporary loss of consciousness, confusion, amnesia,” and other ailments, according to the complaint. She alleges Charles was not sympathetic to her recovery needs, and “callously accused her of not being dedicated to her job as a result of her work being delayed while she was hospitalized.”

Rocklein said she took a week off for a concussion at a doctor’s recommendation, and was fired when she returned Sept. 19, 2018, the complaint alleges, despite never receiving any negative performance feedback.

Charles, who did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment on the alleged extortion, did not mention the head injury in his video, but denied allegations of wrongful termination and painted the suit as a ploy for Rocklein to get settlement money.

“I currently feel as though the situation that I was in is being taken advantage of,” he said, “and I feel as though I’m being blackmailed.”

Rocklein’s lawyer, Edwin Pairavi, denied this, saying in a phone interview Tuesday that “There is no truth to any blackmail.”

In his video, Charles called into question the timing of Rocklein going public with her claims — which happened after he said he was leaving social media.

In an April 1 YouTube video that has since racked up more than 10 million views called “holding myself accountable,” Charles addressed accusations of inappropriate sexting with underage boys, many of whom were his fans. Charles said all the boys he chatted with had told him they were 18, but acknowledged he was not cognizant of the inherent power dynamic between influencer and fan. He said we would be leaving social media for the time-being to process his actions, hold himself accountable, and heal.

In the video Monday, Charles said Rocklein’s timing was “perfect” in a seemingly sarcastic manner, alluding to the sexting scandal and his step-back from public life.

Rocklein and her counsel told NBC News the timing of the sexting scandal did factor into their decision, but for a different reason: After Rocklein saw the public positively responding to those who claimed to be victims of Charles’ behavior, she said she felt more comfortable coming forward against someone with a giant following and loyal fans.

Rocklein is seeking back pay in the suit, as well as damages for distress and mental anguish, among other accusations.

Charles claimed she is seeking “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and he refuses to settle because she is lying about his treatment of her. While Rocklein’s lawyer did not provide an exact number, he said his client is seeking a “significant amount” in damages and owed pay.

Charles also said in his Monday video that Rocklein is making “just the craziest claims you could ever imagine” about him, including that he used the “N-word” in her presence multiple times, which he denied and called “defamatory.”

Rocklein defended those claims Tuesday, saying that “as far as James using the ‘N-word’ with a hard ‘r’: I personally experienced him saying that frequently.”

Charles called Rocklein’s behavior “an attempt to pressure me into making a much, much higher settlement offer.”

“Unfortunately at this point, my only option is to pursue this to the fullest extent of the law, and my hope is one day when it does get to a courtroom in the future, justice will be served,” he said.

But Rocklein’s team said it is the other way around. After hearing that Rocklein was talking to the press, Pairavi said, Charles’ team offered his client a settlement in an attempt to silence her.

Now, based on Charles’ recent statement, it appears the case is going to court.

The Monday video is just the latest scandal for Charles, who has more than 25 million subscribers on YouTube.

In 2017, he apologized on Twitter for making a joke about possibly getting ebola in Africa.

In 2019, Tati Westbrook, another YouTube makeup artist, uploaded a long video accusing Charles of disloyalty and said he tried to bait straight men into relationships with him. Westbrook called him a “danger to society” in the now mega-viral video called “Bye Sister…”—a reference to Charles who calls his viewers “sisters.” Charles responded at the time on YouTube, denying the allegations, and more than a year later Westbrook claimed in a new video that Youtubers Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson, former friends of hers and Charles, had manipulated her and were behind the “Bye Sister..” video. (Star has since apologized to Charles in a YouTube video, but didn’t publicly respond to many of Westbrook’s claims; Dawson responded in an Instagram Live saying Westbrook was lying.)

In April 2020, Charles found himself in hot water once again after using makeup to make it look like he had been attacked for the “Mugshot Challenge,” which many felt trivialized domestic violence. Only a few months later, in July 2020, he apologized on YouTube for violating Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.