July 18, 2024

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Ex-Ye employees allege racist work environment, unpaid labor in lawsuit

Ye, formerly Kanye West, is being sued by eight former employees who say he and former Yeezy Apparel chief of staff Milo Yiannopoulos subjected them to “extreme racism and bullying,” as well as long hours of unpaid labor.

The group of ex-employees — comprising young adults and teenagers 14 to 17 years old from the U.S., the United Kingdom, Hungary and Nigeria — suffered “intolerable harassment and discrimination” working on an app that Ye and Yiannopoulos were developing, the plaintiffs’ law firm Thigpen Legal said in a statement.

The lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, was filed against Ye and Yiannopoulos on Saturday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Members of the app development team were “regularly and viciously bullied” for parts of their identities, such as race, gender and sexual orientation, according to the lawsuit, and some team members were called “slaves” in work-related group chats on Discord, it claims. A Discord channel labeled “New Slaves” was also created for new members of the team, the suit alleges.

“Black and African employees were segregated and given less favorable work assignments, and separate ‘whites only’ working groups were formed,” Thigpen Legal said in a statement Sunday. “Minor workers were mocked for their age. In addition, pornography from Defendants’ venture Yeezy Porn was freely shared in the workplace when minors were present.”

The lawsuit included allegations that members of the development team — including minors — who were asked to work on Ye’s “Yeezy Porn” venture were exposed to pornographic images discussed in work-related group chats.

The suit further says the plaintiffs were threatened with having their pay withheld if they did not agree to work long hours without breaks, including 12-hour shifts that stretched through the night. Even though the app was complete in early May, none of the plaintiffs have been paid for their work, their law firm said Sunday.

A representative for Ye did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday afternoon.

Yiannopoulos, a British far-right political commentator and a former editor of Breitbart News, reportedly left Yeezy Apparel last month after Ye revealed plans to launch his own porn studio, saying in a resignation letter provided to TMZ that the project would endanger his “life as a recovering addict,” as well as his “spiritual and physical health as a former homosexual.”

Asked for comment on the lawsuit, Yiannopoulos initially directed NBC News to a social media statement he posted Saturday, in which he described the complaint as a “joke lawsuit” led by “a disgruntled, comically inept Black developer I call Hotep Susan who is mad he didn’t get chosen for a full-time Yeezy job.”

“The company has signed releases from and contractor agreements with every contributor to every closed and every open source project, including parents or guardians where appropriate,” he added. “Yeezy Porn doesn’t exist, so could not have been shown to anyone. Clowns.”

In a follow-up statement Monday, Yiannapoulos said he ensured the app’s demise by “falling on my sword and quitting over it.”

“The only minors being taken advantage of are the poor suckers roped into this lawsuit, who have no idea what a pack of lies their names have been attached to,” he said.

The lawsuit alleges that Ye’s wife, Bianca Censori, who is head of architecture at Yeezy, sent an employee a file-sharing link of hard-core porn for Yeezy Porn and that the company did not implement guardrails to prevent underage workers from seeing pornographic pictures that were “openly disseminated” in the Discord channel.

Censori, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. Additional inquiries seeking her comment sent late Monday to Yeezy Apparel’s CEO and its business agent, as well as to a publicist identified in the past as a company spokesperson, were not returned.

“Many members of the app development team described the stress of workplace conditions, the constant deadline changes, and the cult-like behavior of other workers [on the development team] as hostile, intimidating, and harassing,” the lawsuit says.

Those conditions subjected several of the workers to anxiety and depression, it adds, and caused them to seek medical care for health complications caused by the stress.

The plaintiffs seek compensation for emotional distress, as well as for unpaid regular and overtime wages, among other damages.