LOS ANGELES (CN) - TMZ fired a producer on bogus claims of racism after he complained that a black co-worker had been going through his trash and reading emails on his office computer and phone, the man claims in court.
Jarrett Gaeta sued TMZ Productions, EHM Productions and Warner Bros. Entertainment in Superior Court on Monday. He alleges wrongful termination, breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Gaeta says his troubles began after TMZ hired a black man to work at the company's New York offices. The man, identified in the lawsuit "African American Male (AAM)" was Gaeta's subordinate, the producer says.
Gaeta claims he caught the man sifting through his trash can, going through emails on his office computer, and looking at emails on Gaeta's phone. He reported the incidents in November 2013, and TMZ fired the man a month later, Gaeta says.
This year, Gaeta claims, he received calls from attorneys for Warner Bros. and TMZ asking him about incidents involving the former employee.
Gaeta was asked: "'Did you ask AAM whether he and other African-Americans were offended by blackface? Did you say 'you black people are offended by every fucking thing. Oh no one can do blackface because it fucking offends you? You're mentally fucked if you think that's the least bit racist,'" according to the complaint.
Gaeta says he told the attorneys he had asked the black employee if he was offended by the term "blackface" in the context of a story they were working on for TMZ. He says he assured them he had never made any racist remarks.
Warner Bros. representative Damian West then asked Gaeta: "'Did you say ... 'You all can call each other niggers but I can't? You black people are so confused. First, you don't want to be called African-American, then you don't want to be referred to as niggers. What should we call you? Colored?'" the lawsuit states.
Gaeta says that after he denied making the comments he was asked if he had sent to the black employee instant messages that "included photographs of a gorilla, Bobby Brown, a map of the US with Mississippi highlighted, slices of watermelon, cocoa butter cream, and Samuel L. Jackson."
Gaeta says he told the lawyers that the claim was "'comical.'"
Gaeta says he was fired the next day, on April 4.
He seeks damages, punitive damages and costs.
He is represented by Corey Boddie with Boddie & Associates.