American Idol Accused of Racial Discrimination?

Nick Fishman

Criminal History

American Idol accused of racism-either a bold accusation or a very foolish one. It started with a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by Attorney James Freeman at the end of January. Freeman is asking the EEOC for permission to sue American Idol for racial discrimination based on nine African-American contestants who were disqualified, all of whom also had a criminal history.

You might be wondering how this case is related to employment and why Freeman submitted the request to the EEOC. And the question in this case is-can American Idol be considered an employer to its contestants?

According to an article from Fistful of Talent, the story was first reported by TMZ, claiming to have the actual letter written by Freeman. The letter mentions that the contestants should not have been asked about their arrest history in the first place, according to California employment law. He also focused on the fact that the contestants that have been disqualified due to criminal history happened to be black and says that the show’s producers have never publicly disqualified contestants of any other ethnicity.

In part, it’s possible this case involves racial discrimination, but perhaps a background check was not completed at all or not soon enough. According to Fistful of Talent, one of their employees auditioned for American Idol and talked about how the process leading up to the show works. It actually takes months from the point of being chosen as a contestant to what we see on television when contestants go in front of the judges…leaving plenty of time for a background check.

Whether or not racial discrimination is at work on American Idol, they certainly shouldn’t be allowing contestants through and then dismissing them because a record is discovered later. It is up to the show’s producers to determine whether or not they would want anyone with a criminal history on this popular reality show. However, it seems embarrassing to both the show and its participants to have this information discovered later.

CA employment law attorney, Anahita Sedaghatfar provided additional insight stating,

“It seems that this lawsuit claiming racial discrimination under California employment laws is not only far-fetched, but wholly misplaced. Yes, California law does prohibit an employer from asking a job applicant about arrests that did not result in convictions, and yes, California law does prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on race, but the key words here are ‘employer’ and ‘employee’,” she explained. “The California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII, which prohibit racial discrimination in employment, simply do not apply because it will be hard to prove that these individuals were employees.”

Whether the contestants can be considered employees of American Idol or not, there seems to be a relationship similar to employer/employee. Therefore a thorough background check of some sort should be conducted in order to prevent more contestants from being booted off the show halfway through the process. The case most likely won’t hold up in court, but hopefully the show will consider taking additional measures in the future to screen contestants before they reach later rounds of the show.

See this article from Fox News for the reasons each of the nine contestants were disqualified and more information on the case.

 

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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