Days after it announced that BET’s President of Programming Stephen Hill and Executive Vice President of Programming Zola Mashariki were stepping down from their coveted positions, Mashariki claims that she learned of her firing while on medical leave for breast cancer.
According to Variety, Mashariki sent her colleagues an email this week, notifying them that she’s been on medical leave since February after being diagnosed with breast cancer and that she planned on returning to her job on April 11.
“I’m concerned that there was a reference to me, as Stephen’s departure is a separate issue from my status at the company,” Mashariki wrote. She added that she’d just undergone “another surgery.”
“It’s a painful recovery for me. It has also been hard on my children.”
She concluded: “Here are the facts. My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery.”
Mashariki and her lawyer are also threatening to file a lawsuit against the network.
“My client, Zola Mashariki, was not terminated prior to taking medical leave. We know that events related to this matter are unfolding rapidly. We will provide our response and the full story in the lawsuit we intend to file,” said Felicia Medina, San Francisco managing partner at Sanford Heisler.
Naturally BET denies Mashariki’s claims saying that her firing had been in the works prior to he cancer diagnosis.
“These claims misrepresent the facts and are without merit. We strongly deny any allegation of wrongdoing,” a BET rep told Variety.
And insiders at BET told The Hollywood Reporter that Mashariki was let go because of performance issues that predated her claims of discrimination and retaliation — as well as her notification to Viacom of her need for medical leave.
In addition, some light has been shed on why Hill may have been let go.
BET insiders told THR that Hill, Mashariki’s boss, may have tried to access Mashariki’s medical records to make sure she was telling the truth about having cancer and even brought it up in a meeting. Apparently when that news was brought to the head of parent company Viacom, Hill was fired.
Mashariki joined BET in April 2015 and oversaw scripted and unscripted programming as well as development and casting.