Wrongful Termination at TMZ?

Usually we read about celebrity gossip on TMZ.com, but recently the entertainment site’s been making its own news for internal employment reasons. A producer, Jarrett Gaeta, who worked for the company for seven years has filed suit for wrongful termination. He is also alleging breach of contract, breach of good faith and emotional duress.

The problem started when an African-American male employee that Mr. Gaeta supervised was fired. After only a month on the job, Mr. Gaeta caught the man snooping in his work area including looking through the trash can, searching his computer and opening emails on his cell phone. When Mr. Gaeta reported the incident, the employee was terminated.

The trouble for Mr. Gaeta began a few months later when TMZ employment attorneys contacted him regarding accusations of racism made by this now former employee. According to the complaint, Mr. Gaeta was asked if he had sent the man instant messages that “included photographs of a gorilla, Bobby Brown, a map of the US with Mississippi highlighted, slices of watermelon, cocoa butter cream, and Samuel L. Jackson” or had asked him offensive questions using rude language about the use of the “n-word” and blackface by non-African Americans.

Mr. Gaeta denied making any of the comments or sending any such messages, adding that the claim was “comical.” The only incident based in reality was that, while working on a TMZ story about the use of blackface (most likely this one), Mr. Gaeta asked the man whether or not the term “blackface” offended him personally. Despite the fact that TMZ lawyers believed Mr. Gaeta was telling the truth, he was terminated. But was it wrongful termination?

Mr. Gaeta claims that this was wrongful termination, and the alleged racist behavior has tainted his reputation and hindered his ability to find new work. He is seeking unspecified damages and attorney’s fees.

Although California is an at-will employment state, meaning that you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, there is still wrongful termination cases here seeing that there are a few exceptions including breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing, both of which Mr. Gaeta has alleged in his lawsuit. If you’ve experienced a situation at work like this one, please contact our employment attorneys for a free consultation.

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