NPR asks federal court to dismiss discrimination lawsuit
NPR asked a federal court on Jan. 11 to dismiss an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by a former broadcast engineer.
The plaintiff, Kevin Langley, 58, alleges his supervisors engaged in discrimination based on both race and age. In a motion filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, NPR countered that Langley, who is black, dropped his discrimination claims against the nonprofit when he signed a separation agreement in August. 2019. The deal called for Langley to be paid $20,000, which NPR said it gave him in January 2020.
In exchange for that payment, the separation agreement acquitted NPR of any claims of discrimination related to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, according to the motion of the network.
In his lawsuit, Langley demanded $5 million from NPR in compensatory damages, in addition to other punitive damages, and the reinstatement of his position as director. Langley also alleged that NPR violated the terms of the separation agreement by delaying the payment of $20,000 for several months. But in its motion, NPR argued that Langley’s claim for breach of contract is without merit since he did not suffer damages due to the delay.
Langley began his career at NPR in 1994 as a broadcast recording technician. He was quickly promoted to technical director of weekend edition then became technical director at morning edition in 1998. Over the next two decades, Langley rose through the ranks of production supervisor and deputy director of broadcast engineering, becoming director of broadcast engineering in 2014.
His relationship with NPR began to deteriorate around 2016, according to his complaint. Langley claimed that he had never received negative performance reviews, but in late 2016 Shawn Fox, then Senior Director of Audio Engineering, began a series of negative reviews in which he said Langley was “outdated” and “used management approaches from the past.”
Langley also claimed a pattern of verbal abuse and racial discrimination, citing instances of white co-workers calling him “boy” during closed meetings, an allegation that echoed another recent lawsuit filed by an employee of BlackNPR. In that lawsuit, plaintiff Zandile Mkwanazi alleged that his white supervisor, Brett Gerringer, called him a “boy” beginning in 2019. U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell referred the case to mediation at the end of last year.
NPR’s motion paints a different picture of Langley’s tenure. He said that after Langley complained to NPR management in 2010 that he failed to get multiple promotions due to discrimination, the network investigated his complaints and determined they were without merit. .
In 2016, Langley’s performance began to slow and her reviews reflected her work, according to the motion.
“During three successive ‘extremely negative’ performance reviews, plaintiff’s supervisors made it clear that he was not properly performing the duties of his job,” the petition reads, citing a colleague who claimed Langley had “did not fulfill its management responsibilities.”
In May 2019, Langley became “overloaded in his position” as director of broadcast engineering and turned down additional work given to him, according to the motion. Shortly after, NPR told Langley that her position was being cut as part of a department restructuring.
Langley claimed that NPR “fraudulently induced the settlement agreement” by claiming that the new supervisor positions that replaced him were ongoing prior to his firing. But NPR argued that he would have to prove he signed the deal under duress in order to void the contract.
“It is not known at all how the specific dates of the scheduling of two positions at NPR would have affected Plaintiff’s decision to sign his separation agreement,” NPR’s filing states. “And presumably for that reason, the plaintiff never alleged that he relied on this information to perform the agreement.”