Nas‘ Mass Appeal company is currently facing a racial discrimination lawsuit from Melissa Cooper, a previous Mass Appeal executive and documentary producer, who alleges that she was the target of “venomous and racist comments about ‘White folk’ and ‘crackers’” before getting fired.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cooper, who is white, was previously at Mass Appeal serving as the head of development. She claims that several company leaders, such as Chief Executive Peter Bittenbender (who is white) and Senior VP of Partnerships and Content Acquisition Jenya Meggs (who is Black), “discriminated against her by removing her from several high value projects, creating a hostile work environment, and terminating her employment.” Nas himself was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit but is a partner in the company.
The lawsuit highlights images of text messages and other evidence supposedly gathered by Cooper and her legal team. The text messages were allegedly sent between Meggs and and Terry Ross, an executive producer (but not from Mass Appeal) for the upcoming Hulu documentary Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told that focuses on a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) picnic that evolved into a street party that became part of Atlanta’s culture. In their supposed exchange, Meggs was voicing her frustration that Cooper was chosen to be an executive producer of the project and not her, and reportedly blamed it on Freaknik executive producer Alex Avant. “Meggs was upset that Avant had decided to pitch the Freaknik project to Cooper and not Meggs, since Avant knew that Meggs was at Mass Appeal as well,” the complaint read. “Ross responded with surprise and said that this was ‘terrible.’ Meggs then texted that there were no hard feelings before qualifying Cooper’s selection for the Freaknik project as ‘Usual white folk behavior.’” Meggs separately voiced her frustration again in a separate message about Bittenbender hiring somebody else over a person she referred. “These white folk something else,” Ross allegedly replied.
The complaint went on to touch on the escalating conflict that took place from 2022 until the first half of 2023 which involved other employees of the company. Meggs allegedly urged Mass Appeal into hiring one of her friends for a human resources job, and this employee became “an unbiased mediator” to aid in solving the rising tensions between Meggs and Cooper over a number of other projects. Nothing fruitful came out of the mediation, however, as Meggs ultimately told Bittenbender that she will not work with Cooper. Cooper claimed that the Chief Executive decided to remove her from several projects, including the company’s big Hip Hop 50 Live concert that took place in August. “Cooper’s removal from this important project, along with others Meggs was staffed on, effectively stripped Cooper of her primary role at Mass Appeal,” the lawsuit said.
Cooper received notice of her firing on June 16, 2023 and was told that her last day would be June 30. She accused Bittenbender and the company of not investigating her claims of racial discrimination that same month, and that “[i]nstead, Bittenbender and Mass Appeal terminated Cooper on June 30, 2023 while continuing to employ Meggs.” Cooper’s lawyer Louis Pechman stated, “The racial animosity reflected in the text messages is simply breathtaking.”
THR adds that Cooper has spent the last two decades working on television and entertainment projects that featured Black protagonists and themes.
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