Second discrimination lawsuit against NPR moves to federal court

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Tyler Falk

An employment discrimination lawsuit against NPR is moving to federal court this month.

Plaintiff Kevin Langley, who is Black, alleged in a complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court in October that the nonprofit and his supervisor engaged in age discrimination by denying him promotions and stalling his career path. Langley was born in 1964.

The lawsuit also alleges discrimination on the basis of race, detailing pay disparities between white and Black employees at NPR, as well as racial slurs directed at Langley.

NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

“We are committed to ensuring NPR is a workplace where everyone can do their best work,” Lara said in an email to Current.

Langley, who had worked in sound engineering for a decade at various broadcast stations including WHUR and WUSA in Washington, D.C., began his career at NPR in 1994 as a broadcast recording technician. After a year, he was promoted to technical director of Weekend Edition and was later promoted to technical director at Morning Edition in 1998, according to the complaint.

Over the next several years, Langley rose through the ranks of production supervisor and later deputy director of broadcast engineering, becoming director of broadcast engineering in 2014.

In the lawsuit, Langley alleges that white colleagues with less experience received promotions ahead of him, including Shawn Fox, who was promoted to senior director of audio engineering in 2012. Langley also raised pay equity issues in 2015 with VP of Human Resources Marjorie Powell after he learned that white managers in the audio engineering department had received bonuses the prior year while Black managers had been denied bonuses. Langley’s request for a pay equity review was declined in September 2015.

Langley’s allegations of age discrimination date back to 2016. Before that year, Langley claimed, he had not received any negative performance reviews. That changed in December 2016, when Fox began a string of three consecutive, negative reviews in which he stated that Langley was “out of date” and “used management approaches from the past.”

[Langley] claimed that on several occasions both Fox and Bud Aiello, director of engineering technology, called him “boy” in closed-door meetings.

Langley described a pattern of verbal abuse and discrimination from colleagues and supervisors around that same period. He claimed that on several occasions both Fox and Bud Aiello, director of engineering technology, called him “boy” in closed-door meetings.

Those details echo another recent lawsuit filed by a Black NPR employee in which plaintiff Zandile Mkwanazi alleged that his white supervisor, Brett Gerringer, referred to him as “boy” beginning in 2019. That suit alleged that Gerringer continued calling Mkwanazi “boy” despite Mkwanazi’s explanation that the term was considered a slur against Black people.

In that case, NPR filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis that name-calling did not establish a hostile work environment. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell largely rejected NPR’s motion to dismiss Mkwanazi’s lawsuit in November, noting that the nonprofit was “off-base” and that the word “boy,” when directed toward a Black man, is rooted in white supremacy, slavery and the Jim Crow era. In December, Howell granted both parties’ request to refer the case to mediation.

Langley claimed that after he filed a discrimination complaint in 2018 detailing NPR’s failure to promote him, Fox and other supervisors retaliated against him by issuing negative performance reviews, reducing his work hours and imposing restrictions on his telework requests.

In 2019, Langley was informed that his department was undergoing unscheduled restructuring and that his role was being eliminated. The suit alleges that NPR hired two supervisors eight months after terminating Langley and that “the restructuring was a ruse to disguise NPR’s ongoing overt discrimination against African American employees.”

Langley has demanded that NPR award him $5 million in compensatory damages, in addition to other punitive damages, and restore his director position.

This article has been updated with the year of Langley’s birth.

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