“The Young and the Restless” star Victoria Rowell has filed a lawsuit against CBS, Sony Pictures Entertainment and several others, saying she was purposefully blocked from being rehired on the long-running soap out of retaliation because she spoke out about the lack of diversity on daytime TV.
According to the lawsuit, Rowell, who played Drucilla Winters on the show for 14 years, left in 2007 after claims of racial discrimination. Three years later, she asked to rejoin the show (or its sister program “The Bold and the Beautiful”) and was repeatedly turned down. The suit claims that the decision was out of retaliation by producers and the network, because Rowell was a vocal advocate to hire more black actors and producers on soap operas — on her show in particular.
“Ms. Rowell made Drucilla Winters one of the most compelling characters ever to appear on daytime television. In refusing to reemploy her, the defendants aren’t just hurting Ms. Rowell,” said Cyrus Mehri, Rowell’s D.C.-based lawyer. “They’re acting against their own economic self-interest.”
In a statement, CBS said the lawsuit has no merit and that Rowell is attempting to “rewrite” history.
The suit, filed in New York, goes into detail about how Rowell fought to bring more black characters to the program. She also spoke out when she wasn’t happy about her character, who started in 1990 as an illiterate prostitute. “In part at Ms. Rowell’s urging, Drucilla transformed herself through an adult literacy program into a positive figure,” the suit says, and added that it helped bring more African American viewers to the show. Rowell was nominated twice for a Daytime Emmy, and received 11 NAACP Image Awards.
However, the suit claims that Rowell faced discrimination on the set: Producers refused to hire an African American hair stylist, she was never allowed to write or direct any episodes, and she was on the receiving end of racist comments.
After her character was sent to an insane asylum, she left the show, and her character plunged off a cliff.
In the years since, Rowell has given many interviews about the lack of diversity in soap operas, both on- and off-camera. She frequently mentions the “anemic” percentage of African American actors and producers involved in daytime TV, on “The Young and the Restless” in particular.
Later, the suit says, after demand from fans and seeing that producers were using stock footage of her character in episodes, Rowell attempted to get her role back — either on “The Young and the Restless” or “The Bold and the Beautiful.” Her character may have died, she argued, but when did that ever stop a soap opera from bringing someone back?
However, the suit alleges, after she was given the runaround by executives, they told her “no.”
Rowell had Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) lobby on her behalf; the suit says that CBS chief executive Les Moonves told Waters that he would alert the House Ethics Committee if she ever contacted him again about Rowell. (A CBS rep says that claim is not true.)
“We were disappointed to learn that, after leaving the cast of “The Young and the Restless” on her own initiative, Ms. Rowell has attempted to rewrite that history through lawyers’ letters and a lawsuit that has no merit,” the network said in a statement. “We harbor no ill will toward Ms. Rowell, but we will vigorously defend this case.”
During a news conference, Rowell’s lawyers said the actress did not want to bring a lawsuit, but she said they had no other choice. “I already can’t get hired,” Rowell said in response to a question about whether she was worried if the suit would affect her getting jobs. Another attorney, Los Angeles-based Dan Stormer, said Rowell’s difficulties partly stem from the fact that “she had the audacity to have an opinion as a black woman in America.”
The suit seeks unspecific monetary damages, including back pay, and for Rowell to be rehired (or at least considered to be rehired) on “The Young and the Restless” or “The Bold and the Beautiful.”