BET's Zola Mashariki Threatens Legal Action Over Her Termination + Stephen Hill Reportedly Fired for HR Violations

In the days following the announcement of Stephen Hill and Zola Mashariki’s departure from their positions at BET, news surrounding the shake up has been described as ‘next-level crazy.’

The network’s CEO Debra Lee sent out a memo Wednesday announcing executives Stephen Hill and Zola Mashariki would be stepping down, but according to sources told Zola is still under contract and was blindsided by the announcement.

She was actually on medical leave when new of her firing was announced.

via Page Six:

“Debra wanted it to be perceived that the transition was a part of Viacom’s restructure, so she included Mashariki in the exit story in an effort to protect Stephen, who was ousted. [Viacom] wanted him out,” a source said.

Hill, president of programming, was employed at BET for 18 years. Mashariki took medical leave earlier this year and was baffled to read she was stepping down from her role as EVP head of original programming. “She was receiving calls and she had no idea what people were talking about because she never accepted any kind of deal nor was she told to leave,” the source said.

A network insider, however, insisted Mashariki was fired before taking medical leave. “She was terminated as a result of her own performance prior to taking medical leave. They then allowed her to keep her contract, so she was able to keep her salary and benefits after being diagnosed. She is definitely terminated,” the insider said.

Despite being ‘fired,’ Zola Mashariki  sent out a memo to her staff reassuring them that she will be returning to work soon.

“I heard yesterday that Stephen was leaving BET. I’m concerned that there was a reference to me, as Stephen’s departure is a separate issue from my status at the company. Here are the facts: I am on medical leave. My job is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and related statutes (FMLA) and I have a contract in place. Viacom/BET are aware that I am scheduled to return on April 11 and that my medical leave may need to be extended depending on the progress of my recovery,” she wrote. “Bob Bakish has said our company values should be honesty, empathy and bravery. I agree with this wholeheartedly and our team has embodied this over the 2 years we have worked together. Without question, including me in Stephen’s departure announcement is not in keeping with those values. I am continuing to focus on improving my health. I have faith in the Viacom/BET leadership and know they will fix this. I have a long history in Hollywood and am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received across the entire industry during this difficult time. Our Original Programming team has accomplished a lot in a short time and the filmmakers and community are excited to work with us again. There is so much more to do.”

Debra is reportedly too embarrassed to issue a retraction over Zola’s job status, according to the source.

“Debra’s really embarrassed and was like it would make her look bad if they put out a retraction. They even told Zola’s lawyer, ‘What if we offered her a dream exit package to save face because it’s going to be hard to get Debra to put out a new statement. Can we find a middle ground?’”

As for why Debra decided to do things this way, it might be because “her days are numbered. She was planning to step down as CEO if Hillary Clinton got elected. There was talk of her having a role in Hillary’s camp,” the source also said.

A rep for BET told Page Six, “These claims misrepresent the facts and are without merit. We strongly deny any allegation of wrongdoing. In addition, we will not comment on specific employee matters.”

Meanwhile, THR’s source says that Zola was fired because of her performance and Stephen was fired for being shady.

Insiders at BET maintain Mashariki was let go because of performance issues that predated her claims of discrimination and retaliation — as well as her notification to Viacom of her need for medical leave. Viacom is said to have conducted what a comprehensive investigation into Mashariki’s claims and found no evidence to support them.

As for Hill’s dismissal, sources note Viacom was notified that he may have attempted to access Mashariki’s medical files and questioned the validity of her breast cancer diagnosis — and purportedly addressed the matter in a staff meeting. The matter escalated to Bakish, who made the decision to dismiss Hill from his post as president of programming.

Lastly, sources tell exclusively:

“Apparently, Stephen had many HR issues and pending lawsuits — from harassment to creating a hostile work environment to garden variety discrimination and intimidation complaints. Tons of complainants against him.”

It’s not like BET doesn’t have an established record of shady termination practices….

Excuse us while we sip on this piping hot cup of tea.

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