In the latest challenge for Qatar as it tries to make inroads into the US media market, a former staffer at Al Jazeera America (AJAM) is suing the cable channel for US$15 million.
The employee claims that he was fired in “retaliation” for complaining about the alleged anti-Jewish, discriminatory and sexist behavior of a senior manager.
Earlier this week, Matthew Luke filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court of the State of New York against his former employer, which is part of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network, and his ex-supervisor Osman Mahmud.
Luke claims in his statement that Mahmud exhibited a “pattern of offensive and discriminatory behavior that was widely known” within AJAM, but bosses failed to take any disciplinary action against him.
He said Mahmud’s actions included removing female colleagues from projects that they had already been assigned to by other managers, excluding women from emails and meetings that were relevant to their assignments and “making discriminatory, anti-semitic and anti-American remarks such as ‘whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell.’ ”
Luke joined AJAM in May 2013, three months ahead of the channel’s launch, as a supervisor of media and archive management.
Mahmud was hired in October 2013, initially as a news editor, but quickly rose through the company ranks until he was appointed Vice President of Broadcast Operations and Technology and became Luke’s boss.
Luke alleged that Mahmud’s series of quick promotions was at least in part due to him being “well-connected” with financiers and senior executives at AJAM and its parent company Al Jazeera Media Network, “specifically with Dr. Mostefa Souag,” the network’s acting Director General, the statement added.
Mahmud has denied the claims leveled against him, the Washington Post reports. He told the newspaper that the allegations of treatment of women were “a pack of lies” and added that if he had undertaken the actions Luke alleges, other staffers would also have complained.
In a statement, AJAM told the Post that it does not comment on pending litigation.
As an example of Mahmud’s alleged discrimination against women, Luke states that in November 2014, Mahmud “took it upon himself to terminate one of the best editors” who was working on the show America Tonight.
When that decision was questioned by a female executive producer of the show, who was Mahmud’s senior, Luke said that he became “combative and dismissive” of her. She was later ordered to write a letter of apology to Mahmud, Luke added.
Several weeks later, Luke claims that some of the channel’s senior executives met to discuss Mahmud’s “overt misogynistic behavior and bias against women as well as his anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
No action was taken against Mahmud because he was “so well-connected within the company,” he added.
Five days after Luke made an official complaint about Mahmud’s behavior to the channel’s HR department, he said he was called by his bosses at AJAM, telling him not to attend work the following day.
He was then allegedly suspended without pay pending an investigation over complaints by Mahmud surrounding a disagreement four months previously.
“Mr. Mahmud’s complaint and the subsequent ‘investigation’ of that complaint was not conducted in good faith but rather was a misguided attempt on the part of AJAM and Mr. Mahmud to retaliate against Mr Luke for his complaints regarding Mr Mahmud’s discriminatory behavior,” the lawsuit stated.
Ten days after filing the complaint, in February of this year, Luke was fired and told that he “did not fit in to the company culture.”
Luke is claiming $5 million in compensation and $10 million in punitive damages against the network.
After the lawsuit was filed, Al Jazeera America also announced that two top executives, executive vice president for human resources Diana Lee, and executive vice president for communications Dawn Bridges, were leaving the company, Politico reports.
The network has struggled to attract viewers in the US since its launch.
In December 2013, Al Jazeera’s Souag said during a media roundtable in Doha: “It’s still a baby, we need time for this baby to start running and competing in the neighborhood.”