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Black VP Can Amend Lawsuit Against Starz

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge gave a senior vice president 30 days to amend multiple retaliation claims against Starz Entertainment for firing him, its only high-level black executive.

Keno V. Thomas, the cable network's senior vice president of sales and affiliate marketing, sued Starz in October last year, claiming it fired him for whistleblowing, refusing to break the law, advocating for minority workers, and questioning the legality of tactics it used in negotiating a contract extension.

U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder on Thursday dismissed four of the seven claims, without prejudice, and gave him 30 days to amend them.

Snyder found that in his amended complaint, Thomas asserted one claim for emotional distress and six for retaliation, but none for discrimination. Thomas sued in superior court, and Starz removed it on the basis of federal question and diversity jurisdiction.

Starz argued the emotional distress claim arose from workplace conduct and is preempted by California's worker's compensation law.

Thomas countered that the emotional distress arose from discrimination, which worker's compensation does not preempt.

"In each of the retaliation claims, plaintiff asserts that he disclosed, called into question, or otherwise challenged conduct by Starz's employees, which he believed was unlawful or unethical," Snyder wrote.

However, Thomas "admits that his claims do not arise out of discrimination he may have suffered personally, but rather out of retaliation for reporting the conduct of others," Snyder found.

"The California Supreme Court has expressly held that 'whistle-blower retaliation' of the sort alleged here, is a risk inherent to the employment relationship" and preempted by the Workers' Compensation Act, Snyder said, and dismissed that claim without prejudice.

Snyder also dismissed without prejudice Thomas' two claims of retaliation for refusing to take part in illegal conduct, saying Thomas did not specifically cite a statute, rule or regulation that Starz violated.

Snyder dismissed without prejudice Starz CEO Chris Albrecht from the lawsuit, saying Thomas did not specifically cite any claims against Albrecht or any wrongdoing by him. Snyder also struck unrelated information relating to domestic assault allegations against Albrecht.

Snyder denied Starz's motion to dismiss Thomas' Section 1981 retaliation claim. Starz argued there is no individual liability under Section 1981, but Snyder said the section broadly protects all people in contractual relationships and allowed the claim to remain.

Snyder gave Thomas 30 days to amend his complaint, or the claims will be dismissed with prejudice.

Thomas' attorney, Dan Stormer, with Hadsell Stormer & Renick, in Pasadena, was not immediately available for comment Friday.

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