Recently, the soap opera The Young and the Restless has been in the spotlight for drama that has unfolded off camera. That drama has manifested itself as a legal battle between Sony Pictures Television, Bell Dramatic Serial Company, Bell Philip Television Production Inc., and CBS Corporation and Victoria Rowell, actress and fourteen-year veteran on The Young and the Restless.

Rowell’s legal suit against Sony Pictures Television and affiliates is a retaliation claim in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Rowell claims that after leaving the show of her own volition in 2007, she attempted to be rehired after a Young and the Restless fan blog sought to bring back her character. Rowell alleges that she was denied the opportunity to return to the show due to her open criticism of the show’s lack of diversity both on and off the set.

Rowell has been a long time advocate for racial equality in the media. Her efforts have included campaigning for black journalists to be included in Y&R press conferences, attempting to secure a black hair stylist for cast members, and more recently, shaming Y&R on social media for their lack of black executive producers, despite the show being loyally watched by black audiences.

Rowell’s suit, though laudable, will likely run into a number of issues. First, retaliation claims traditionally forbid retaliation with regard to any aspect of employment, including pay, promotions, benefits, hiring, firing, and any other condition of employment. It is not clear, however, whether a retaliation claim includes actions against an ex employee interested in being rehired.

Furthermore, there is a hefty First Amendment issue. In 2012, the Tennessee Middle District Court confronted the issue of racial discrimination in casting decisions in a case of first impression—Claybrooks v. ABC. The Court found that casting decisions were inextricably tied to the artistic process, and therefore entitled to First Amendment protection under the artistic freedom of expression.

Though Claybrooks dealt with casting decisions in the reality-based television show The Bachelor, the Court’s opinion drew no distinction between casting decisions in reality television programs and scripted television programs.

Erin Shackelford

One Response to The Young and the Restless: Legal Drama Behind the Scenes

  1. Oliver Shackelford says:

    Well written, even I understood it 😊