A former reporter for YouTube-centric political media company the Young Turks has filed a racial discrimination claim against the progressive news outlet.
Andrew Jerell Jones, a black journalist whose work has appeared in the Guardian and the Intercept, alleges that Young Turks founder and CEO Cenk Uygur told him complaining about racial biases within the company was a “fireable offense” and that he should “shut the fuck up and deal.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Uygur said, “The quotes attributed to me in the workplace are completely false."
The complaint, filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights, alleges that Jones, unlike his white colleagues, dealt with shifting expectations, unclear deadlines, and a lack of a travel budget for investigative stories. Jones said that he complained to executives that his boss, Jonathan Larsen, treated other reporters in the “TYT Investigates” group less harshly, and that he faced improper charges of insubordination and poor performance.
Jones said that he was contacted by David Koller, one of the founders of TYT, who told him he would begin an investigation into his complaint of racial discrimination, but nobody ever followed up with him. The complaint alleges that another executive called Jones shortly thereafter and made a “veiled threat,” saying, “If this all works out you are under Larsen, but he may also discontinue your services.”
"I thought Andrew was a good guy when he worked here, I'll leave comments about his work to the legal proceedings,” Uygur said in the statement. “It's really unfortunate that he has decided to work with a lawyer who has now brought two different, unrelated actions against us. Of course we care a great deal about diversity in the workplace — that is part and parcel of what we do and who we are. We will defend our record and not give into baseless demands.”
Through a spokesperson, Koller and Larsen declined to comment.
Jones said he was put on a two-week probation to evaluate his performance, and his request to change to another unit of the newsroom was denied (he said he was originally hired to handle subjects like breaking news and sports, but was moved to the investigative division). According to the complaint, Jones submitted five story ideas to Larsen during the probation period, but all were rejected. Days later, Jones said he was pushed to resign from the company and sign a severance deal that would restrict his ability to take legal action for racial discrimination. He refused and was fired a few days later.
“He complained and said this isn’t working for me, I’m facing racial discrimination,” said Bill Moran, Jones’s attorney. “The response he kept getting was you just need to deal with it, this is fine, and if you complain again something bad will happen to you.”
The complaint paints a dark picture of a media company that has become well-known for championing liberal causes. In recent weeks, the Young Turks has come under fire for racist and sexist writing in its past. In December, the Wrap uncovered old blog posts where Uygur wrote demeaning and sexist entries about women and dating. Uygur apologized and called his writings from the early 2000s “insensitive and ignorant.” The Wrap also discovered a 2004 blog post from Koller, where he describes seeing “po' black people just hanging out in the heat” on a road trip through Memphis. “I mean these negros were the real deal,” Koller wrote. Justice Democrats, a progressive group, cut ties with Uygur and Koller.