Questlove has led his band the Roots from the underground hip-hop scene to a permanent gig as the house musicians on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon." Along the way, he’s been an outspoken critic of racial injustice. In a Rolling Stone profile, he said he has been racially profiled many times, calling it "absolutely probably the most humiliating, lowest, lowest feeling a human being can have."
Now, he’s being sued for racial discrimination by two former camera operators for "The Tonight Show."
Kurt Decker and Michael Cimino’s lawsuit claims that following an incident in which the two received a "racist and misogynist" text message, Questlove convinced NBC to fire them because they are white. The two filed their lawsuit against both NBC and 47-year-old Questlove, whose real name is Ahmir Khalib Thompson, in Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The network said in a statement to Deadline that it made the decision to fire Decker and Cimino on its own, adding, "NBC is committed to providing a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. We have strong policies in place that protect against discrimination in any form."
Questlove denied what he called the "ridiculous allegations made in the lawsuit" in a statement to Pitchfork. He added that "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."
Decker and Cimino said that they — among others — received an "unsolicited racist and misogynist text message from a ‘Tonight Show’ stagehand" on June 19, 2017. Neither the stagehand nor the content of the message is identified in the complaint.
The two claim that they were "shocked" to receive the message and "repulsed by its content." They said that they didn’t send the message to anyone. Instead, they complained to other NBC staffers about the message, including the Roots’ manager Keith McPhee.
The next day they were called into separate meetings in the human resources department. There, according to the complaint, they "both 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."
Cimini went a step further, telling a human resources representative that "he has a wife and two three-year-old children and that he does not condone that kind of language or ‘humor’ at home or at work."
NBC fired the two men on Aug. 3. They claim this was because of "Questlove’s insistence that all Caucasian employees who received the unsolicited message" be fired, according to the lawsuit. They also said Roots bassist Mark Kelley, who is black, received the text message and received no disciplinary action.
Decker and Cimino are seeking more than $1 million in damages.