Mass Appeal, the imprint co-founded by Nas, faces a discrimination lawsuit from a white executive who alleges she was the victim of racial discrimination.
Nas’ company Mass Appeal was hit with a racial discrimination lawsuit from Melissa Cooper, a documentary producer, and former head of development, who is white. The lawsuit, which Cooper and her attorneys at Pechman Law Group filed in a federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, specifies the races of the parties involved due to the nature of the allegations.
The lawsuit claims that company executives discriminated against Cooper by removing her from several high-value projects, “creating a hostile work environment,” and terminating her employment. Many of the allegations revolve around a documentary, Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told, about a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) picnic that became culturally important to Atlanta, set to debut on Hulu next year. Cooper is an executive producer on the film.
Mass Appeal executives named in the lawsuit include Peter Bittenbender, the company’s chief executive, who is white — and also an executive producer on Freaknik, — and Jenya Meggs, the senior VP for partnerships and content acquisition, who is Black. While not specifically named as a defendant in the lawsuit, Nas is a partner at Mass Appeal, which is named.
Cooper, who has almost 20 years of experience in television, has worked on many projects with Black themes and protagonists. Meggs, who is not an executive producer on Freaknik, is a former content producer for Apple Music, and executive producer on the BET George Floyd special.
The bulk of the complaint stems from back-and-forth text messages between Meggs and another Freaknik executive producer who is Black and not an employee of Mass Appeal, in which Meggs expresses frustration at Cooper, a white woman, being on the project instead of her.
Cooper’s lawyer, Louis Pechman, says, “The racial animosity reflected in the text messages is simply breathtaking.” The lawsuit claims Cooper was the victim of “venomous and racist comments about ‘white folk’ and ‘crackers.’”
In an escalating conflict, Meggs complains about Bittenbender’s decision not to hire a candidate she referred to the company. Later, issues arise around Meggs allegedly pushing Mass Appeal to hire a friend of hers for an HR position, presented as “an unbiased mediator,” to broker solutions between herself and Cooper over various projects.
When Meggs told Bittenbender she couldn’t work with Cooper anymore, the lawsuit claims that Bittenbender removed Cooper from several projects, including Mass Appeal’s Hip-Hop 50 Live Concert at Yankee Stadium, along with others on which Meggs was staffed. This “effectively stripped Cooper of her primary role at Mass Appeal.”
In June, Cooper was told she was being fired. The lawsuit claims that Bittenbender and the company made no effort to investigate her claims of racial discrimination earlier that month.