EXCLUSIVE: CNN employee says superior threatened to “kill” him over discrimination lawsuit

CNN calls the accusation “slanderous”

Credit: Whit Friese (l) allegedly threatened his underline DeWayne Walker with his life, according to a lawsuit

Credit: Whit Friese (l) allegedly threatened his underline DeWayne Walker with his life, according to a lawsuit

Originally posted Wednesday, December 4, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

DeWayne Walker, an Atlanta-based employee at CNN for 16 years, said he was verbally threatened with his life by a superior because of a race discrimination lawsuit he filed earlier this year.

Walker, in a new lawsuit filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Walker said he ran into his boss Whit Friese, vice president and group creative director, in a restroom on August 15, 2019 at CNN Center.

The lawsuit then described this alleged verbal encounter:

Friese told Walker, “Just drop it.” Friese was supposedly referencing the lawsuit Walker filed in May.

Walker: “Or?”

Friese approached Mr. Walker at the urinal and quietly said: “If you f***with my money, I will kill you.”

Five days after the encounter, Walker informed CNN human resources of the incident and met with the HR manager August 21, the lawsuit stated. Walker was placed on administrative leave with pay the next day.

In November, Walker filed a new complaint, noting that Friese was not apparently punished for his verbal comment.

"It's a travesty and a sham," said Walker's attorney Mario Williams of Williams Oinonen LLC. "You're using an administrative process to punish a person who made the complaint. The next best thing to firing someone is keeping him out of the office on administrative leave with pay even though he's the victim."

Walker, who is manager of integrated marketing for CNN, remains on leave with pay after more than three months.

A court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 11 and Williams will attempt to get Walker reinstated to his job.

Barbara Levin, a CNN vice president for communications, responded on Thursday with the following statement:

“It is not our practice to comment on legal or personnel matters, but these outrageous and damaging claims merit a response. The accusations by Mr. Walker are entirely false, both with regards to his personal career development and the slanderous allegation against a co-worker that never happened. They are the latest in more than five years of claims that have been consistently rejected by the courts and the EEOC. We will vigorously defend this suit in court.”

Walker has filed multiple lawsuits against his employer for racial discrimination, saying he was not being promoted to higher-level positions because of his race.

He first filed a complaint to the EEOC in early 2014 and a federal lawsuit in December, 2015. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in early 2018, noting that he wasn't qualified for seven of the nine positions he claimed he should have been considered for. He didn't apply to an eighth and the judge saw no evidence of discrimination regarding the ninth.

Using a new attorney Williams, Walker filed a new complaint in May. By that time, he said he had applied for about  28 positions, and “has never been contacted for a vast majority of his applications.”

The lawsuit continued: “Rather than being free from retaliation and racial discrimination for reporting unlawful discrimination, Defendants continue to engage in these pernicious practices with impunity, causing Mr. Walker to file this Complaint in order to vindicate his rights and stop the devastating effect on the trajectory of his career at CNN/Turner.”

Walker also claimed “extensive documentation that highlights systemic discrimination against African  American employees, particularly males, at CNN/Turner.”

A separate class-action lawsuit filed by attorney Daniel Meacham in 2016 addressing widespread discrimination at CNN and Turner was thrown out by a judge in July, 2017.

U.S. District Court judge William Duffey Jr. at the time didn't buy the lawsuit's argument, saying it "is fraught with conclusory claims, unsupported by factual allegations sufficient to support the inferences claimed by Plaintiffs."

The latest lawsuit by Walker said any minorities who complain about their treatment at the company are placed on a list called “BOLO,” or “Be On the Lookout For.”

“Defendants muzzle African Americans who settle lawsuits by insisting on non-disclosure agreements that stop African Americans from being able to discuss their experiences of racial discrimination,” the lawsuit added.