Questlove Faces Bias Suit Over ‘Tonight Show’ Firings

Roots front man Questlove plays the drums as part of Dave Chappelle’s August 2017 residency at Radio City Music Hall. (Photo credit: Radio City Music Hall)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Firings swept “The Tonight Show” last year after a racist text message made the rounds backstage. Two white cameramen claim now that drummer Questlove made sure a black member of The Roots was spared.

Though the text message is not reproduced in the Jan. 24 complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, plaintiffs Kurt Decker and Michael Cimino say “both were shocked to receive it and repulsed by its content.”

Represented by Madison Avenue attorney Richard Roth, the cameramen note that an unnamed stagehand sent the message at 4:54 p.m. on June 19, 2017.

“Neither of the plaintiffs had any role or involvement in creating or condoning the text message,” the complaint continues.

Decker and Cimino are both white, but they note that Roots bandmate Mark Kelly, who is black received the message as well.

All three were working at the time, according to the complaint, which also says Cimino only read the message after clocking out for the night and heading home.

Decker and Cimino insist that neither of them responded or forwarded the message, which they say distressed them so much that they sought guidance from other staffers on “The Tonight Show” about what to do.

The next morning, in a meeting with representatives from human resources, both men say they “reiterated the same truthful story: that they did not know why they had received the text message, they both found it offensive, and neither had forwarded it to anyone else.”

“Notwithstanding the fact that neither Decker nor Cimino did anything wrong at all – and were themselves victims of this inappropriate conduct – the HR representatives suspended Decker and Cimino effective immediately and told them not to speak to anyone else at NBC during their suspension,” the complaint states (emphasis in original).

Decker and Cimino say that NBC then launched a seven-week investigation into the incident in an effort to placate Questlove, who “found the text message so offensive that he pressured NBC to fire all of the Caucasian employees involved in the incident.”

“Kelly, who had also received the unsolicited text message, was neither
suspended nor investigated,” the complaint states.

Kelly is not a party to the complaint, which names NBC and Questlove as defendants.

Representatives from NBC did not respond to a request for comment, but the music-news website Pitchfork posted a statement Thursday morning on behalf of Questlove.

“Questlove denies the ridiculous allegations made in this lawsuit,” a representative for the drummer said.

“Racism is REAL and exists throughout the world and for these gentlemen to claim victim is not only disrespectful to Questlove and his bandmates, but to all that truly endure racism on a daily basis,” the statement continues. “As NBC already stated, the decisions made regarding these employees were made by NBC, alone.”

Questlove retweeted Pitchfork, adding the comment: “Not that I should have to RT this bullshucks but yeah … that time I got sued for being offended by racism.”

Before losing their jobs that August, according to the complaint, Decker and Cimino had 24 and 17 years of experience, respectively, with network NBC.

Their complaint accuses Questlove of facing repeated allegations of “racist and misogynist” behavior, such as his use of the song “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” as the walk-on music for presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann.

In August 2017, former Roots percussionist and “Tonight Show” band member Frankie “Knuckles” Williams sued the band’s management over earnings and royalties.

Kelly’s predecessor, former Roots bassist Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, also claimed in court that he was squeezed out of business ventures after he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer.

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