Al Roker Sued by Animation Producer for Failing to Enforce DEI Policy

by State Brief

A lawsuit has been filed against TV personality Al Roker and his production company by a former employee who claims the company failed to implement diversity initiatives aimed at hiring minority writers.

Bill Schultz, an award-winning animation producer whose many credits include The Simpsons and King of the Hill, had initially signed a deal to help create a multimillion-dollar children’s animated series titled Weather Hunters. The series was based on a three- to four-page draft concept authored by Roker.

The ownership structure of the show was “unique,” according to The Hollywood Reporter: “the majority of the show’s production costs are covered by PBS [Public Broadcasting System] while Al Roker Entertainment retains complete ownership of the series. PBS provided 70 percent of the project financing for 40 half-hour episodes.”

The lawsuit, filed in New York Federal Court on April 15, argues Schultz was “illegally targeted” and terminated as a result of the animator “standing tall as a whistle blower” by complaining about Al Roker Entertainment’s refusal to implement PBS’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy.

Rather than hiring BIPOC [black, indigenous, and people of color] writers for the show, the suit states, company executives attempted to skirt the DEI policy by having white writers create episodes that they would then “hand off to BIPOC writers.”

The filing alleges that Lisa Tucker, the company’s SVP Development & Production, and Caren Franklin, Director Finances & Business Affairs, “demonstrated surprisingly low tolerance or appreciation for or interest in supporting matters of diversity and racial inclusion with regard to the production.”

Schultz allegedly championed the use of “diversity and racial inclusion” – especially since the proposed series focused on an African American family.

The suit claims Tucker and Franklin “saw the use of ‘BIPOC’ individuals as a handicap or unwelcome obstacle that could be disregarded if necessary and be evaded or overcome. … Further, management at Al Roker Entertainment did not see the PBS DEI mandate as a requirement: It was a box to be checked in the most expedient manner possible.”

The two executives reportedly tried to coerce the African American supervising producer who wrote the DEI plan to “cosign their ‘workarounds’ so that the production could just hire white writers, and not have to work with ‘BIPOC’ writers, who they falsely claimed were not acceptable.”

On Aug. 15, 2023, matters came to a head when the series’ story editor allegedly told Schultz that BIPOC writers “sucked,” were inexperienced, and would fail to keep up with the production schedule. The editor then apparently told Schultz they would need to hire “experienced non-BIPOC writers.”

Later that year, Schultz was suspended and then fired.

“I put nine years of my career into Weather Hunters, a project I strongly believe in, with the goal of making a wonderfully crafted show for children to enjoy and learn from,” Schultz said in a statement quoted by The Hollywood Reporter. “I also believed, and still believe, that the project benefited by creating opportunities for the ‘new voices’ crucial in storytelling and that the Weather Hunters production needed to live up to the ideals it was supposed to represent.”

The animator claims Roker, his company, and Tucker violated New York City Human Rights Law, in addition to suing for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and failure to supervise and control, as well as tortious interference.

The lawsuit asks for a minimum of $30 million in its prayer for relief.

Neither Roker nor his company immediately responded to requests for comment from the Reporter.

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