The Al Jazeera America network has shut its doors, but it’s still wrestling with a lawsuit brought by a top executive.
The new network started out with a mission to pursue long-form journalism and “smart” reporting, but the big audience never came, and, plagued by economic problems, the network shut down earlier this year. The network cited “the economic landscape of the media environment” as part of the reason for its sudden closure.
In the midst of all this, former Executive Vice President Anand Gupta filed a lawsuit and is coming forward with claims that he was shortchanged by the network.
Gupta’s case, as is laid out in various news reports, is that he was promised a promotion to chief financial officer by CEO Ehab Al Shihabi. After Al Shihabi was replaced in May 2015, Gupta said, Al Antsey, who took over the network, did not come through with that promotion.
Further, Gupta said, the broken promise constituted racial discrimination; he suggests the network tried to retaliate after he filed a formal complaint. Gupta is looking for lost wages and damages.
Legal documentation of the lawsuit opens a window into network spending practices, revealing the network paid for various services for Al Shihabi, including $11,000 a month for housing.
The Gupta lawsuit isn't the first brought against the network. Last year, several workers also brought suit for a work environment that they claimed was misogynistic and hostile.
New York Times coverage from May 2015 shows employees talking about “a deep dysfunction in management of the newsroom,” and a “culture of fear,” suggesting workers there were afraid to cross the CEO for fear of retaliation.
Departing higher-ups included Al Jazeera America Senior Vice President for Outreach Marcy McGinnis, Chief of Human Resources Diana Lee and Executive Vice President for Communications Dawn Bridges.
In an interview around that time, Al Shihabi pointed to the network’s journalistic achievements, committed to raising morale in its office and suggested that as a threat to larger and more established networks, Al Jazeera America had a steep hill to climb.
Now, it’s clear that network executives could not fulfill their mandate to keep the network solvent and build it for the long term.
In general, the network is staying very quiet about the details of the current lawsuit filed by Gupta.
“We strongly disagree with the allegations made in Mr. Gupta's complaint, which contains many factual inaccuracies, and we intend to vigorously defend the company’s position.” Al Jazeera spokesperson Molly Morse told the Gulf News Journal in a prepared statement Wednesday, declining further comment. “The company firmly believes it acted appropriately and properly in its interactions with Mr. Gupta at all times, and Mr. Anstey has worked tirelessly to ensure that all employees were treated fairly during their employment since he came on board last year.”
As for Gupta’s lawyers, dozens of calls and e-mails to Joshua
Jeremiah Joseph Iadevaia of Vladeck, Raskin & Clark P.C. were not answered.